Home & Design

Fresh Field

A garden grows on cloistered cathedral grounds

Washington National Cathedral, the neo-Gothic DC landmark conceived more than a century ago at soaring, monumental scale, withstood a major earthquake in 2011 that badly compromised its structural integrity. Plans already underway for improvements were postponed—among these, a reimagining of the cloistered garth garden first conceptualized by Richard Williams Architects in 2009 and finally completed in 2019.

Landscape architect Milton Meade Palmer designed the original garth garden in 1968, centering it around a bronze fountain by Japanese American sculptor George Tsutakawa. RWA and a team that included Michael Verguson Landscape Architects respected the garden’s intent while following an overarching mandate: to create an intimate area for the interment of cremated remains. The garden also hosts services including weddings and baptisms and is open as a retreat to the public.

The new design encompasses two curving site walls. One, a low granite wall, defines the existing courtyard terrace and reinforces the fountain as a focal point. The second, curving away from the first, is made of rubble stone; it comprises the All Souls Memorial Garden—the sacred burial mound where ashes are interred.

“We divided the garth into realms,” principal Richard Williams recounts. “The communal courtyard and the peaceful burial ground.” Names and dates of the interred are engraved on bronze bars designed by Gutierrez Studios that anchor to the granite wall.

Renovation Architecture: Richard Williams, FAIA, principal in charge; Justin Donovan, AIA, project architect, Richard Williams Architects, PLLC, Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd., Alexandria, Virginia. Renovation Contracting: AllenBuilt Inc., Bethesda, Maryland.

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