American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Professional Awards
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View of the garden from the balcony reveals a horizontal organization of landscape elements.  The black concrete walls, stainless steel strips, and planting materials slide by each other to create a maze-like space and give a feeling of expansiveness. (Photo: Art Gray)

View from the guestroom.  The black concrete walls become sculptural elements, and plantings are kept low to create a tranquil atmosphere.  The grey concrete pad outside the glass doors blurs the boundary between interior and exterior. (Photo: Alice Chung)

In autumn, White Japanese anemones (also called “Wind Flower”) rise over the black concrete walls and sway gently in the breeze.  Himalayan White Birches turn golden, highlighting seasonal change. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

The northeast corner of the garden receives the most sun.  A space is provided for lounge chairs.  The black concrete wall near the Birch trees can be used as a picnic table or informal seating. (Photo: Alice Chung)

Detail of Japanese anemone in bloom against black concrete wall.  The planting is retained by stainless steel edge. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

Stainless steel strips reflect light from the sky and echo stainless steel elements on the balcony and house.  Some of the strips retain soil and act as steps.  However, the look is uniformly two-dimensional when viewed from above. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

The top of the black concrete wall is polished to capture reflections of the sky.  The sides of the wall are rough to further contrast the smoothness of the stainless steel strips. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

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Private Residence, San Francisco, California
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, San Francisco, California

"Terrific! Restrained, modern exuberation. Nice, simple, clean lines. Such a good contrast for contemplative space."

— 2007 Professional Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement

The design redefines the notion of “backyard.”  The garden is highly graphic when viewed from above, but upon entering the garden, the design unfolds, encouraging movement and quiet contemplation.  The garden provides a seamless connection with the architecture of the home.  Though it is highly visual, it is not static.  The design is mutable, reflecting the sky in the day, emitting a soft glow at night, moving with the wind, and expressing the seasons.

Project Narrative

In 2005, a couple approached the landscape architect hoping to create a new landscape that would complement their planned home renovation in San Francisco.  The couple’s children were grown and the couple wanted to create a home for them come back to with their families.  As luck would have it, the “sister” house next door was put up for sale.  After the clients purchased the neighboring house, the architect joined the two structures to form a single home with an open floor plan, a clean, modern design, and strong circular elements.  The central feature of the home is a magnificent spiral staircase entwined with a stainless steel ribbon which ties together the three floors of the house.

The openness of the structure made the treatment of the landscape a fundamental design element for both the interior and the exterior of the home.  The architect for the residence planned to install a large, circular reflecting pool in the rear yard as a literal continuation of the helical theme created by the staircase and an oculus-shaped opening in the roof of the home.  However, the reflecting pool was well over budget.  The landscape architect was brought on-board with the challenge of creating a smooth transition between the residential structure and the built landscape, while being mindful of cost restraints.

After creating and discarding three plans that integrated circular sculptures into the built landscape, the landscape architect decided that a literal translation of the circular form was not viable in the existing space.  The designer solved this problem by reinventing the aesthetic link between the house and the landscape as metaphoric rather than literal.  The circular form was translated into ideas of expansiveness, horizontality, and reflectivity, which served as a metaphor for the expansion of the couple’s lives into their new home.

The clients were very taken by the labyrinth at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco where purposeful walking is used to achieve a meditative state, and they requested that the garden somehow echo the labyrinth. The landscape architect integrated the idea of focused walking into the built landscape by creating an indirect garden path which facilitates an escape from spatial boundaries.

The play between simplicity and expansiveness is physically represented in the landscape by stainless steel bands that span the garden and mirror the sky.  Free standing walls built from integrally colored black concrete enhance both the reflectivity and horizontality of the space.  The sides of the walls were roughened to contrast the smoothness of the top of the concrete.  When water pools on the polished surfaces of the walls, it blurs the boundary between sky and earth and creates a feeling of limitlessness.  The stainless steel bands also act as steps and the free-standing wall in the northeast corner of the lot can be used as a table.  Rows of coral-bells, Japanese anemones, dwarf bamboo, and calla lilies line the walls, enhancing the garden’s linearity and meditative feel.    The birch trees along the fence screen the garden from neighboring yards and add seasonal interest when the leaves turn in the fall.  Narcissus bulbs mark the spring.  Cobalt LED lights lie parallel to the walls, emphasizing the horizontality of the design and highlighting its lines at night.  Smaller stainless steel lights in the stairs make the garden navigable in the dark.

The design derives beauty from alchemy.  From above, the landscape is linear and highly graphic, whereas at ground the level, the garden has a calm, meditative feel.  At night, the blue lighting, white flowers, and birch bark give the area a ghostly feel.

Special Factors

A major consideration in the execution of this project was the grade change between the front and the rear yards and between the north, south, east and west corners of the lot.  Stainless steel covered strips were used to manage the elevation change.  The site required a design plan that was chameleon in nature: one that would be visually interesting both from above and at ground level, during the night and during the day, and in all seasons.  Because of the importance of the landscape to the aesthetic feel of the house’s interior, it was essential to create a built landscape which would both compliment and enhance the architecture of the home.


Project Resources

Lundberg Design

Landscape Architect:
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
Andrea Cochran, Alice Chung, Shelley Martin

Interior Designer:
Frost Tsuji Architects

Structural Engineer:
Tuan and Robinson, Structural Engineers, Inc.

General Contractor:
Van Acker Construction Associates, Inc.

Contractor for Hardscape:
Pascual Castillo Landscape

Contractor for Planting/Irrigation:
Terra Ferma Landscapes

Fence Fabricator:
Kytin Design and Fabrication


Detail to demonstrate textural contrast of the smooth LED light and stainless steel strip against rough concrete walls and gravel paving.  The Bangchari wood/powder coated metal fence provides a warm backdrop. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

New Japanese maple acts as the terminus sculpture for walkers to pause and contemplate, change direction and move forward. (Photo: Marion Brenner)

Birch trees and Bangchari wood fences give the garden a sense of enclosure.  Daffodils and coral-bells are planted beneath the birches to attract hummingbirds and provide seasonal interest. (Photo: Alice Chung)

Stainless steel strips reflect light from the sky and echo the stainless steel balcony of the house.Stainless steel strips reflect light from the sky and echo the stainless steel balcony of the house. (Photo: Alice Chung)

Balcony grates cast shadows onto the gravel paving, creating the illusion of raked gravel.  This is reminiscent of gravel patterns found in dry gardens in Japanese Zen temples.  Landscape lighting and blue LED lights give the garden a mysterious atmosphere. (Photo: Ryan Hughes)

View of house façade with stainless steel trim.  At night, green glass bars light up on the house facade, echoing the blue LED lights in the garden. (Photo: Ryan Hughes)

Site plan.

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