Anderson Gardens 20 Years Later
We visited Anderson Gardens in the fall of 2023, twenty years after the renovation of an existing farmhouse and addition of three new homes focused on a central garden, to see the greenspace and the architecture supporting a community. The story, however, begins much earlier- originally four lots were sold in May of 1925 as part of “Gatewood Gardens”. In the years in between, this land made history.
Rhodes Architecture + Light joined a group of neighbors, purchasing the original house and adjoining land in 2000 from Mary Anderson. From 1932, for seven decades, the land was a home, personal garden, and the place Mary, a teacher, and Lloyd Anderson, an engineer for the electrified Seattle trolley system, raised a family. Then, in 1938, Mary and her husband Lloyd started Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) in the little white house high above Lincoln Park in West Seattle, taking mail-orders for climbing gear for the cooperative. The attic was the REI warehouse, the basement an assembly line for tents and waterproof gear and REI’s first office, a room off the old kitchen.
When the Anderson home was renovated in 2000, the planning for the four lots included shared space-a shared entrance, drive and gardens; homes and garages that opened to become workshops surrounding common land dedicated to Lloyd + Mary Anderson. Each house occupied private, “fee-simple” land yet the experiment Rhodes Architecture + Light designed was centered on community and a large greenspace for play, gatherings and growing food, the land becoming the focal point. Three new houses were built two years later. Lloyd and Mary’s house maintains appropriate pride of place in its original elevated place above the garden.
Since 2001, eight families have gathered here and made the original Anderson’s home and land into a shared collective. The original neighborhood gave way to new families in
After so much history it was a delight to see the land and homes again in 2023 with nurturing gardens (shared and private), the soil yielding flowers, herbs and tomatoes, and the koi pond shaded by mature trees. The houses feel natural, fitted into the hillside, and cared for by another generation enjoying the greenspaces. Some changes are evident-new paint colors, added details, personalization-yet today the soul of the place is more vibrant than ever.
In addition to celebrating the history, Anderson Gardens was designed with the charge that smaller is better–the wellness of the community more important than scale and opulence. All interior spaces are greater close to plants and nature, and good daylighting abundant, which is crucial to the health and spirit of the residents. In our age of pandemic, the simple circle of houses shelters its own central landscape and encourages all to get out into the natural environment they care for.
The steep hillside facing western views suggested a design on multiple levels of gardens, outdoor gathering, decks, terraces, and glass windows and doors encouraging all interiors to open outward. Twenty years of planting and tilling have integrated all the levels of Anderson Gardens into the hill, yielding a bounty of variable spaces rich in landscape. Simple, hardy materials have held up well and the modern farmhouse-like architecture feels natural in the setting.
Jim Whittaker, a friend of Mary and Lloyd Anderson and 1956 executive at REI called that store “a great meeting place” (Carol Beers, Seattle Times, September 23, 2000). Anderson Gardens has become a great meeting place too, the four families now sharing the central garden space dedicated to Mary, a master gardener, to share food, hear local music and coordinate the care of their plants and each other.
Revisited twenty years after, at harvest time, the elements that make Anderson Gardens a great meeting place are highlighted in the rich fall evening. A play space surrounded by raised food garden beds and areas for vines, kitchen herbs, fruit and flowers are central to the idea of meeting. A community path and various tiers of sitting and gathering spaces surrounding the garden is important too. Two generous one-car garages with huge sliding barn doors open to the central space encouraging community even while working in these spaces. Just outside this area, all the four residential entries open to and encourage neighbor meetings daily. Kitchen and breakfast areas inside the residences open with large casement windows above window seats toward the green, directing attention to Anderson Garden and keeping eyes on the passage of the community and visitors.
Natural light attracts and promotes wellness, and large central skylights in each residence lend ample daylight to the commons-level core of each house encouraging gathering inside at the garden level. Lloyd and Mary’s house has appropriate pride of place in its original elevated place above the garden and in the orientation of all four homes each has a western view.
Overlooks between the new homes were designed to draw visitors through the common areas to western views and a central yard hydrant, like a community well, is free for all to use to irrigate the landscape. All four residences have private spaces and decks overlooking the western views of Puget Sound, Vashon Island, and the Olympic Mountain-providing an intimate respite away from the community if needed. Yet the daily comings and goings of all four families tend to lead to passing and greeting one’s neighbors. The concept was captured in the group’s name, recreating the place in 2000 as The Neighborhood Company.
The central drive, a necessity and three of the homeowner’s means of entry, was thought of as another gathering space. Legal access easements were created over the drive, granting all four homeowners’ access in perpetuity, drive materials planned for a long life and ease of maintenance, trellis-topped lattice “screens” built to separate the drive while at the same time making it a connected upper tier of the commons. Yard sales, bicycle practice, games of four-square bring life and activity to the ostensively prosaic place necessitated by the car.
Christopher Alexander, Architect and Planner, developed the idea of “Positive Space.” “Positive Space depends on the density of STRONG CENTERS in the space. Outdoor space is positive when it is shaped, just as a room is shaped. It has a contained character; it is bounded by walls, trees, fences, natural vegetation, enclosure of some kind. When space is positive, passing through it one moves from space to space, as if one were moving through a series of rooms. Each space, individually, is a strong center, each one has a BOUNDARY, one feels its heart, its substance.” (The Nature of Order, The Hulls of Public Space, Christopher Alexander, The Center for Environmental Structure).
Anderson Gardens is shaped by and pays homage to its center. Not a void left over when four homes were designed, but the bounded core of the half-acre of land planned to become the focus of the community. Thinking deeply about the boundaries of this place-the homes, walls, openings, planting beds, screens, trees, and plants, was the key to creating positive space instead of land that could have been only “left over”.
In revisiting Anderson Gardens in the fall of 2023, we are reminded of the rich history that underpins this remarkable community and honored that Rhodes Architecture + Light had a part in shaping its story. From its origins as a simple farmhouse and the birthplace of REI, to its transformation into a shared collective of homes and gardens, this special community has evolved over the decades while preserving its soul and purpose. The emphasis on community and a connection to nature remains steadfast, even more crucial in today's world. As we reflect on the past twenty years, we find a thriving oasis where vibrant gardens, welcoming spaces, and shared moments continue to define Anderson Gardens. It has become a place where neighbors gather, where nature and architecture harmoniously coexist, and where the spirit of Mary and Lloyd Anderson lives on. In embracing the concept of "Positive Space," Anderson Gardens demonstrates that true beauty lies not only in the structures but in the carefully cultivated boundaries that shape and define this unique haven. Here, the legacy of the past meets the promise of the future, making Anderson Gardens a timeless testament to the enduring power of community, nature, and thoughtful design.