Custom Crafting a Thought-Provoking Memorial at Tanforan

In 1942, the Tanforan racetrack in San Bruno, California, was hastily converted into the Tanforan Assembly Center, a Japanese internment camp that imprisoned nearly 8,000 Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area. The camp used existing horse stalls as makeshift barracks for the thousands of internees forced into the site.

Recognizing the need to memorialize and garner awareness about this historic injustice, the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee worked with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to develop both a commemorative photo exhibit and a physical memorial site. Located right outside the major public transit hub on a previously underutilized plaza, a 2,500-square-foot memorial now stands as a poignant reminder of discriminatory wartime civilian incarceration.

A decade in the making, San Francisco-based RHAA Landscape Architects + Planners took the lead on designing the memorial’s features, notably replicas of the horse-stalls-turned-barracks. Recognizing Landscape Forms’ experience in modular structure and custom fabrication, the team at RHAA sought out the company’s Studio 431 Custom Division to fabricate these abstracted replicas. Studio 431 also created the freestanding informational signage and custom bench seating for the Tanforan Memorial.

The commemorative signage offers insight into the lives of people imprisoned at Tanforan, and the names of all who were interned there are imprinted on the stall doors. Appearing prominently in the middle of the site, a bronze sculpture of interned children stands touchingly next to a single Japanese Cherry Tree.

All of Studio 431’s pieces at the Tanforan Memorial feature steel framing finished in textured Onyx powdercoat with wooden surfaces and siding throughout the stalls and seating. “Because the location is surrounded by steel and glass, we wanted to add warmth, but also because of the site’s context, we wanted to make sure nothing was flashy,” explains Jimmy Chan, Vice President at RHAA. Studio 431’s custom work closely follows this philosophy, providing warm textures and materials in a design language that’s reserved, understated and respectful.


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About Damian Holmes 3228 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at