Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time shoveling out my office. I needed a shovel! Suffice it to say that I went over every square inch of my office in person, with the idea that I needed to sort through and clean up. Some plans from 20 years ago did not look all that good to me, several decades later. Why should they? Client files so old I did not recognize the name-did I need those? Files of inspirational pictures that no longer seemed very inspirational-did I need these? Piles of notes secured with rubber bands that broke when I touched them-I could no longer remember what I was thinking when I wrote them. A point of view changes over the years-hopefully for the better. Some things from the past don’t warrant saving. I reorganized all of my books to include this past year’s purchases. I swept and dusted. What I did not pitch I updated, rethought, and reorganized. Every plan has a file now. How I love the look. Clean, and organized. Why did I the pitch the records and drawings of certain older work? Any plan that seemed immature or unfinished, not interesting or not built-I pitched them. I am happy to be free of them. Vintage does not necessarily imply valuable. But this plan dating back to 2005 still looked good to me. I remember that the architecture of the house was elaborate – winged. The center portion of the structure was parallel to the lot, and the street. A pair of east and west wings angled sharply away from formal structure of the center section.
A residential landscape design needs to consider the siting of a home. That house will always be the most important feature of a landscape, as it occupies the vast majority of the space. The landscape needs to respond to that. The architect clearly felt that a central entry space would be enhanced by wings at an angle. I was not consulted about the architecture-nor should I have been. My job was to come in after the house was built, and design a landscape that would scoop up that architecture, and detail an interesting and thoughtful relationship between the structure and the property.
The front door was immediately adjacent to a tower that housed the stairs to the second floor. The wing of the house off the front door to the east veered sharply to the north. The wing off the formal dining room to the west veered to the north at a different angle. The footprint of the house was complicated, and intricate. My instinct was to generate a landscape plan that would function like an envelope. An envelope, strictly speaking, is a paper structure designed to hold a letter. That letter may address a number of topics, many of which might veer off east and west as well as north and south. An envelope – bear with me – is a an enclosure that houses a complex of written ideas. The plain white envelope that encloses my gas bill is a case in point. The driveway and landscape of the front entry encompasses with a singular gesture the complexity of the architecture. A white envelope. The paving design of the drive court still interests me. The surface of the area immediately surrounding the front door area calls out the entrance-this area was to be blue stone. The areas denoted by diagonal lines was to be concrete aggregate. The dotted areas indicate decomposed granite.
The grade of this property was very high at the street. That grade fell from the street to the back. My idea was to place the grade of the driveway at the same grade as the street. And the same grade as the front door. This would involve cutting into the existing land form, building retaining walls to hold back that soil so high, and ending with a route to the front door at grade -as noted in my drawing. The day I drew this plan, I could imagine how it would be to drive into a steep property, with those hills looming over both left and right, retained by stone. The driveway would be the next best thing to a trip through a tunnel. Leaving the grade high at the street meant that a large house would sit down, and have some privacy from the road. A drawing of a landscape plan never rises to the level of a dream. That takes a plan, and a commitment to a thoughtful installation that has room for revision. Any landscape needs the time and opportunity to speak back. Landscape plans provide a place from which to approach a project. This plan I saved, as it approaches some issues in a way I still think has merit.
Of course, the back yard sees those site lines from various wings of the house beginning to converge. There was no way to avoid this. The driveway garden with an allee of trees pushes way into the back yard. The drive court adjacent to the garage entry is formal. The landscape beyond is equally as formal, and parallel to that drive court. The rear yard design was parceled into three rooms, each one accessed by a gravel path that began at the driveway, and would eventually turn and traverse the entire rear yard. The is gravel path is parallel to the wings of the house. The left wing features a large blue stone terrace that captures a series of intricate twists and turns taken by the architecture. A large portion of the yard off this terrace is a lawn panel. The transition space between the terrace landscape and the pool landscape-a triangular perennial garden. The central room features a large fountain. The property behind this house is a large golf course, so the rear property line would never be a visual issue. The transition from the pool landscape to the formal garden is another triangular shaped perennial garden. The right wing, which houses the master bedroom, features a formal garden on axis, and a pavilion with climbing roses and clematis.
As jarring as all of these angles seem, from a bird’s eye view, the reality on the ground would be much different. The perennial gardens would soften the transition from one space to another. The design makes the most of all of the property available.
The far east side of the property climbs steeply. A four foot stone retaining wall would make that slope less steep. I still like the looks of this master plan. If you are further interested in a closer look at the plans, you can click on each picture for a magnified view. I regret to say that this landscape never got built. Not every landscape plan comes to life. That’s life as any landscape designer knows it. But I still like how it addresses the architecture. I am especially pleased that I had the sense to specify a triangular block of taxus in the front yard, on axis with the front door. This is my favorite part of this plan. This plan, I kept. The idea that a landscape is an envelope still intrigues me.