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Oak Savanna Vineyards
Lutsko Associates Landscape, San Francisco, CA
A design intervention transforms a weed-choked irrigation pond into a favorite location for family gatherings and vineyard events. Two curved concrete walls redefine the water's edge, creating an adjacent social space. Extensive restoration of native grasses and careful design around the existing oaks creates ecological health and connections between the project landscape and surrounding hills. The landscape architect practiced restraint, using simple sculptural interventions to create a frame for a landscape restored to health and beauty.
Two curved concrete walls are the focal point of the site and organizing elements of the gathering space. A break in the walls invites visitors onto a small intimate deck that hovers just above the water's surface. Set back from the curved concrete walls are a series of low local field stone walls that define a larger area capable of accommodating 200 guests. The low walls are connected by steps and pathways that lead guests to the exising house and vineyard parking area. Native California oaks and grasses surround the gathering space.
At the time of design, the vineyard at the 450 acre Oak Savanna property was a well-worn agricultural landscape on the edge of the wild canyons and steppes of the San Rafael Mountains. The residence at Oak Savanna had been built on a hilltop, avoiding connection to the properties agrarian landscapes. A history of cattle ranching had destroyed most of the native grasslands. A canyon had been damned to create a watering hole. When the cattle were removed from the ranch their watering hole was put use as an irrigation pond for the vineyards. Silt and weeds were choking the pond.
The landscape architect selected the pond site as the focus of the transformation. It would become a gathering place for vineyard events, parties and family events, representative of a new relationship to the land. The designers and owners were committed to two goals: creating ecological health and creating art in the landscape.
The site was used as a testing ground for future restoration projects on the property. The hillsides above the pond were planted with a variety of native grasses and wildflowers. Riparian tree species were planted at the water's edge. Native shrubs were planted on the north facing slopes. The shoreline beyond the gathering space was re-graded and planted to eliminate problems of sediment and nutrient accumulation from erosion, thus improving habitat for birds and amphibians.
The site remains a human landscape. The gathering place is located within a working vineyard, by the side of a dammed pond, over what once must have been a seasonal creek. The installation acknowledges this complex relationship. The defining concrete walls rise up above the surface of the water, dam-like in appearance. They portray infrastructure as a direct connection between people and nature. Within the context of restored ecological health, this conceptual piece suggests that a responsible role for infrastructure may allow it to once again become a monument of pride rather than a symbol of detrimental impacts on nature. The design exemplifies the power of simple design that heals the land while increasing opportunities for its use by people.
Lutsko Associates Design Team
Ron Lutsko Jr., Principal
Laura Jerrard, Project Manager
Stephen Perlof, Stephen Perlof Consulting Structural Engineers, Los Angeles, CA
Brad Alpers, Alpers Construction Company Santa Ynez, CA
Mark Bates, Solvang, CA
Lonnie Erickson, DL Electric
Valley Gardener Co.
Valley Crest Tree Company
Ken Kees, The Tree Source
John Anderson, Hedgerow Farms
"Each gesture the landscape architect made engages the landscape in a pretty suave way. The walls are exquisite, adding a very sculptural quality and embracing the water."
— 2009 Professional Awards Jury