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Information for Visitors

Japanese Roof Garden

Mr Handa performing in the Roof Garden

The Japanese-inspired roof garden at SOAS, University of London was built during the Japan 2001 celebrations and was officially opened by the sponsor, Mr Haruhisa Handa (Toshu Fukami), an Honorary Fellow of the School, on 13 November 2001. It provides an area away from the noise and bustle of London streets, where visitors can relax and meditate.

Compassion Character

The garden is dedicated to Forgiveness, which is the meaning of the Kanji character engraved on the garden’s granite water basin.

Peter Swift, a designer with experience of adapting Japanese garden design principles to the British environment and climate, conceived the garden as a place of quiet contemplation and meditation as well as a functional space complementary to the Gallery and its artistic activities.

A small stage can be used for dramatic or musical productions, for tea ceremonies or displays. Or it can be used simply as seating.

The Brunei Gallery was built in 1995 and has always had a roof garden. Unfortunately the original garden had pools that sprang a leak and the water had to be drained. As a result much of the original charm was lost and the garden fell into disuse. In 2000 Mr Handa offered to finance the creation of a Japanese-style garden and the designer Peter Swift from Planit EDC Ltd. was engaged to design and implement a suitable scheme.

The new garden was built during the summer of 2001 by Ground Control Ltd., Billericay, Essex with stone supplied by CED Ltd, Thurrock, Essex, and was opened as part of the Japan 2001 celebrations.

The newly built garden

Roof Garden - In the rain
Roof Garden - In the sun

Whether in the rain or the sun, the garden has a lot of character. Its character also changes with the time of day and the season, so it is worth a repeat visit!

Planting has been kept to a minimum, with lemon thyme used in a chequerboard pattern at the north end of the garden and the climbing wisteria to provide cool shade during the summer. The purple flowers of the wisteria also provide a splash of colour when they bloom in late spring. Various types of stone are used in the garden: a sweeping curve blends the original rectangular sandstone with the irregular green slate; the central area of raked silver grey granite chippings has regular slabs of basaltic rock alluding to a bridge over flowing water; the island stones in the gravel areas are Larvikite from Norway; dark grey pebbles from a contrast in colour and texture to the formal granite edging and to the chequerboard planting.

Roof Garden - Plan

We hope that the garden will be enjoyed as a place of peace and meditation. It may also be used for events such as receptions, small plays, Noh dramas, sculpture exhibitions and flower displays.

As resources permit, we will add more seating and a canopy over the stage.

How to find the garden

SOAS is just off the north west corner of Russell Square, London. The nearest Tube station is Russell Square, though Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road and Euston Square stations are also close. When you are in the SOAS precinct, look for the Brunei Gallery. The garden can be accessed from the first floor of the Gallery.

Opening times

The garden is open to the public when the Brunei Gallery is open, normally Tuesday to Saturday 10.30am to 5pm except when exhibitions are being changed or during private functions. Please phone the recorded message service for current details.

Admission to the garden is free during public opening times.

The Roof Garden is available for hire for private functions. For availability and rates, please telephone or email the SOAS Conference Office.

Activities in the Garden

School party visiting the roof garden
Japanese Music in the Roof Garden

Most of the time, the garden is available for individual relaxation and meditation, but occasionally groups visit, by prior arrangement.

The stage is used for performances such as this trio of SOAS students playing Japanese instruments during an open weekend in the summer.

The garden is often used as a venue for openings for Brunei Gallery exhibitions.