Here are a couple of conceptual planting designs from a green roof project in Mill Valley, and a small intimate courtyard in Corte Madera.
Corte Madera Intimate Courtyard (Click for Larger Version)
Geographic information systems, GIS, are a really valuable tool for planning projects. Most GIS applications available from local counties and cities are web-based interactive mapping applications that allow you to search for a property parcel and view key information like property boundaries, topo contour lines, utilities, and aerial photos. All the information is scaled and most aerial photos available are orthogonally corrected (corrected to display to scale and not be distorted by the earth’s curvature).
So what’s the utility of GIS in landscape projects? The information can help with laying out site plans, confirming information on existing plans, siting trees, buildings and other key features. Most of the applications available online are intuitive and easy to use.
Marin Map (all of Marin County)
Napa County GIS
Sonoma County PRMD Active Map (for areas in unincorporated Sonoma County)
Here is a planting design for a front yard in San Rafael that we are currently developing. The front yard design focuses on the front entrance gate and arbor. The yard is also shallow and to keep things in proper scale we focused on a deer resistant ornamental grasses and blooming perennials. The unique element all ready in place is a Hearts in San Francisco art piece that we used a focal point for the yard.
(Click image to see larger version)
After watching Saving the Bay, and its great history of poor planning, development, and conservation, I was looking at different videos of the Bay Area and its planning history. Here is a great video on the history of the much maligned Embarcadero Freeway and its ultimate transformation into the Bay waterfront of today.
Here is a current project with a fence design we are working on in San Rafael. This is a typical 6′ plus 2′ trellis style fence, designed to give privacy, while at the same time using a top open panel to not being too visually imposing.
While the majority of the new work we construct focuses on custom residential landscape construction, about 25% of our projects are commercial landscape installation work. Commercial installations carry with them their own set of challenges. We find that our design-build approach and project management services are especially valuable in these situations where we can manage complex projects involving multiple subcontractors, tight budget constraints and the needs of multiple stakeholders and end users.
A good case study of our commercial construction process is the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in San Rafael where we completed a pool courtyard renovation last year. The pool area for the Sheraton was outdated and unusable. The management and management company wanted a more usable space to serve as a better gathering place in the central courtyard of the hotel, and a place where outdoor meals could be served from the restaurant on-site.
We developed a renovation plan for the space the incorporated a custom designed two sided gas fireplace, with a central shade arbor that tied into the existing architectural detailing and gave an anchor to the space. The result transformed the outdoor dining experience at the restaurant, better incorporated the pool area into the rest of the hotel use areas, and is one of the most popular areas for people to gather at night around the fireplace.
View our Sheraton Portfolio to see more before and after images and details on this project.
Here is a current project in Napa for an outdoor fireplace and kitchen that is in construction. The design for this project really opened up a small backyard and brought the detailing and richness that was present inside the house to the landscape for a great outdoor living space.
Here is a gate design for a current project. This gate will be crafted by a custom woodworking firm and then installed for the project to give rich detailing to the entrance and perimeter gates.
Here is a detail section for a current project’s outdoor fireplace we are working on. It features a wood burning Rumford design and is integrated into an outdoor kitchen. Potted trees have been integrated into the existing decking above the fireplace the help soften the chimney and integrate it into the context of the yard.
This project we are working on in the conceptual design phase in Corte Madera works on redeveloping the front and back yards of the residence. The design creates more planted garden space and more usable outdoor living space.
Detail from a custom arbor project in Tiburon:
Here are a couple of details from some current projects. The first is for an outdoor gas only fireplace, the second a planting plan with images of plantings to be installed.
Here is a quick sketch of a couple of detailing options for a wood arbor. Part of the appeal of a custom wood arbor is the variety of detailing that can be done to create a style that fits a project and can coordinate with the house architecture. In the sketch are two basic systems for framing an arbor- either using sandwiched beams around a main support post, or having the beam rest directly on the post.
Here is an update to an earlier post, showing a pool courtyard project we are working on. Things have progressed from the initial concept to include a new water feature, fireplace with seat walls, and arbor to create an improved pool and courtyard space.
We are working on integrating a large stone water wall into a current project in Mill Valley. The piece from Stone Forest is made of black granite and has a slightly arched shape. We are going to install this above a retaining wall with a rear wood backing, which should make for a dramatic and interesting look. Below is a quick section mock-up to show what the finished product would look like.
Here is a planting scheme for a commercial/residential type project application we are working on in San Rafael. This project has a number of challenges- it is in a heavy deer area; there is heavy use and traffic in and around the planting areas; and the scheme needed to be as low maintenance and drought tolerant as possible. The solution we are working on utilizes a palette of deer resistant plants that are also very tough, yet still attractive. Ornamental grasses and New Zealand Flaxes are combined with resilient groundcovers like prostrate Rosemary and Manzanita to create a planting that satisfies these diverse requirements.
Here is a conceptual drawing for a pool courtyard project for a hotel/restaurant featuring a main trellis structure, outdoor fireplace and water feature.
Here is a design detail and progress photo for an outdoor Rumford Fireplace we are working on finishing up in Tiburon. The shell of the fireplace has been constructed; now the finish tile borders around the hearth and tile cornice details are left to install, followed by a contrasing coat of stucco.
Rumford fireplaces are modular units that are designed to be easy to install, and to project more heat into the space, instead of escaping up the chimney. More information is available at the Rumford Website.
We are currently working on a project in Mill Valley, which as is commonly the case, has a very narrow roadway past the property. In such a compressed setting, screening and aesthetics are important design factors. In this design mock-up we use a combination of modular stone veneer from Rox-Pro, with front screening trees to refresh the front of this property.
We have posted a new Adobe Acrobat .pdf version of our design services overview that gives a good outline of our design process and areas of specialization- including our design/build approach to landscape projects.
Looking at some recent covers of Landscape Architecture magazine, it lead me to ponder an interesting series of questions regarding the cost of public projects-
Yes, these designs and public spaces are beautiful and interesting design-wise, but are they worth the money to construct? Is it worth the money at Union Square in San Francisco to use stone paving instead of concrete? Is it worth the money to incorporate custom designed elements into a park or public space that cost much more because of their unique or custom nature? Would the public be better served by spreading tax dollars or other park funding sources thinner over a wider area? Should there be better funding of future maintenance of parks, rather than spending all the money on a fancy new installation that weathers poorly? If the choice is to install ten nice small parks in a city, or one avant gard fancy park, which benefits the community more?
A lot of the answers to these questions are wrapped up in machinations of politics, the way public works projects (or semi- public projects) are funded, the type of projects designers want to design (award winning and new), and our general public curiosity with new and interesting designs. All this does not mean that it is the best use financially, that this money provides us the most benefit publicly for the money invested. Public projects might benefit if these questions were examined upon funding of new park or public works project. And yet, these questions are asked, and design projects are heavily value-engineered to strip out expensive elements and keep down costs. In the end, the goal should be, which park is going to be serve the public and benefit the community. A subjective and difficult question to answer- if this is the central question or focus, does a landmark the Golden Gate Bridge get built?
Are features, like this fountain in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Park, worth the high cost of installation and maintenance for the enhancements they provide to the park space?
An interesting poll from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Harris Poll found a number of buildings that are the public’s favorites, contrary to the tastes of many architectural critics. The Empire State Building was the favorite building, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was fifth, with many of Washington’s national monuments rounding out the top 10. The public had a less critical eye than many architects that pick their favorites, rating the Las Vegas Bellagio hotel in the top 25.
Story from Rueters
Here is a design detail for a water feature in an elevated walled bed. The water feature being used in this installation is a Mizubachi black granite piece from Stone Forest. The wall surrounding the stone will be faced with Sonoma Fieldstone Veneer and capped with a bluestone seating ledge.
Photo from Stone Forest
Here is a conceptual layout for a project in San Rafael. The Eichler home is being reworking in the front and rear yards to give an updated modern garden that functions as an extension of the residence.
Here is a basic design element, a detail for wood stairs with railings to provide access for an area above an existing retaining wall. The exposed area underneath the steps is screened in with lattice to provide a storage area.
How do planting plans evolve from initial client preferences to final installation? Usually through a sequence of steps.
First, we talk with the client about the style of plantings they prefer and how this relates to the overall design style for the project. Next, we create a plant booklet that outlines recommendations (includes a photo and characteristics) based on our initial conversations and the realities of the site where the plants are to be installed. The booklet might contain anywhere from 25-100 different plant varieties. Clients may be more or less horticulturally inclined, but usually we ask them to select plants that they either love or hate, and then we work to fill out the rest of the palette.
After we have a general idea for plant selection and style we usually create a massing plan. This sets the relationships and geometries of the plantings (usually based on size, and the location of any specimen plants). We then assign plant varieties, moving, modifying, and tweaking things as we go. At this stage, we may lead the clients on a tour to the local nursery to view the plants ‘in the round,’ as this is usually much more informative than viewing pictures alone. For big trees, we may go to a tree nursery and select specimens with the client.
After we assign varieties, we usually present the plan to the client for final approval. Any final changes are made, and the plan is ready for construction. This usually is not the end of the process however. In the field we do a preliminary layout of the plants prior to installation, to make sure the client likes the overall layout and positioning of the plants. We have found this process to be very effective as it is much harder to move plants after they have been planted. Once the client has approved the field layout we start planting. Remember, green side up!
Here is a conceptual layout for a carport arbor for a project in Sonoma for a project in design:
Here is a color planting plan from a recent project. We use colored planting plans with common plant names for illustrative communication with clients. Over the years we have found that these type of plans are much more effective and easier for clients to understand than black and white wireframe plans with Latin names, number systems, or abbreviations.
A recent review of our blog recently sparked a thought concerning landscape architecture. Most people do not really know what landscape architects are. This is a common topic of discussion in the profession, with seemingly monthly discourses in the professional magazine and lengthy manifestos, like that done at Iowa State- An Apocalyptic Manifesto, which laments the profession’s complacency:
“At the start of the 21st Century, landscape architecture is a troubled profession, more distinguished by what it lacks than the qualities that it actually possesses. It has no historiography, no formal theory, no definition, direction, or focus. A vast schism currently existing between its academics and professional practitioners. In universities across the nation, researchers poach methodologies from other, more vibrant disciplines. Meanwhile, in professional offices, designers yoked to the bottom line crank out pedestrian design.”
Of particular interest to me are the public’s perception of landscape architecture and landscape architecture’s relation to the construction industry. Ask your average person on the street to name an architect and a minimum you will get the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright. Likely modern names of Pei, Geary, and others will follow. Pose the same question with landscape architects, and any response would probably be an exception rather than the rule. Should landscape architects be as recognized as architects? Ask the same question of notables, concerning other design disciplines such as engineering, and you are unlikely to draw a response either (The Spanish architect and engineer Calatrava jumps to my mind).
From our perspective in residential landscape design and construction, a strengthening of the relationship between landscape architect and builder is something that could help the profession as well. Design theory is one important element, but equal focus on construction methodology and cost could enhance and improve the public sector practice of the profession.