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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2004 Issue

Engaging Estate
Hither Lane pulls you into its masterful private realm.
By Allen Freeman

Making your way through Hither Lane is like reading a good mystery novel, one that unfolds so artfully that artifice goes undetected.

Hither Lane pulls you into its masterful private realm. Photograph by Alan Ward

Turning off a straight, narrow road, you pass through an unpretentious gate of horizontal wood slats and drive up a gentle rise through a curving allée of mature plane trees. After pulling into a cloistered courtyard, you enter one of three modernist structures in a rambling, one-story compound and ultimately arrive at a long, high-ceilinged refectory with a wall of windows on one side. The payoff is an expansive view of smooth lawn across the undulating landscape you just skirted. In front of you are a shallow ravine, a soft breast of land, and long prospects through tall trees—little to suggest an 11-acre fenced estate in the Long Island town of East Hampton, New York.

Hither Lane, winner of an ASLA design honor award, is private, rural, and internally oriented—antithetical to the other 2003 honor award recipient, the Olin Partnership's prominent, public, and urban Getty Center in Los Angeles. Although as carefully planned and constructed as any urban landscape project, Hither Lane seems natural and expansive. It is a place to explore and savor.

The landscape architect, Douglas Reed, ASLA, of Reed Hilderbrand Associates in Watertown, Massachusetts, detected potential in a piece of land that eluded those who previously sited two houses on this property. The first house, built in 1898, was positioned near the middle of the estate on the top of the breastlike knoll. That house burned down in the early 1920s. In the 1930s, the owners put a second house on the side of the knoll and located a swimming pool where the first house had stood. In 1995, when new owners were contemplating constructing the current house, Reed and architect Salvatore LaRosa inspected the property and concluded that the estate would be diminished by placing a large dwelling at its center, and that this land would be better served by building near an edge.

Reed and LaRosa rented a bucket truck so they could rise above the dense undergrowth and get a clear picture of the terrain. They made out three distinctive forms: the knoll, the ravine, and, in front of the 1930s house, a plateau. "We felt that the legibility of those three land features was somehow going to be key to a successful and compelling scheme," Reed recalls. The top of the knoll, however, had been flattened for the foundations of the 1898 house and then excavated for the 1930s swimming pool; a thick, three-acre stand of bamboo covered much of the plateau.

Reed says he and LaRosa approached their work on the project as ordering the landscape out from the house for the benefit of the occupants rather than for those who might glimpse it from the road or driveway. They decided the best place for the new house was on the plateau near the east edge of the acreage, abutting land in conservation. This allowed them to orient the view from the house obliquely across the property's longest dimension while taking advantage of the landforms to obscure houses on adjacent properties.

LaRosa began conceiving something like a monastic enclave. He reasoned that low-key, rational architecture, broken down into linked segments around a courtyard, would best serve the larger, romantic landscape. Extensive preparations included study models of the house and the topography.

Site manipulation included taking down the 1930s house, restoring a natural contour on the top of the knoll, subtly sloping the plateau to improve drainage, and smoothing out the transition from the knoll to the ravine. Although a roadbed for the curving drive that served the 1898 house was no longer visible, the double row of plane trees survived, and Reed saw that restoring the drive would work for the new house at the edge of the property. A no-brainer, he calls it. The allée frames views of various landscape features, and then the drive turns in behind a grove of tulip poplars and enters the courtyard. From there, views into the heart of the property remain concealed until you make your way to the refectory, which LaRosa fronted with a shallow arcade. The arcade's columns echo the plane tree trunks.

For the courtyards, Reed chose trees that would lend domestic scale and shade, including broad-form cork trees and katsuras. He put a private garden off the master bedroom under the grove of tulip poplars, and on the way to the pool house, he added a walk of river birches that serves as a backdrop for a small sculpture court. The pool and pool house are set in a preexisting sassafras grove bisected by a curving fence with no horizontal members (see Transparent Solution). Beyond, you stroll to a hillside of lavender bushes set in a quincunx pattern, wind around to a playhouse, tread century-old brick steps to the top of the knoll, and look back across the ravine to the house, framed by honey locusts, on the plateau.

Reed met the owner of the Hither Lane property through LaRosa, a principal of B Five Studio in New York City. "Sal approached me about this project, saying it could be unusual in our careers because of the beauty of the site and the sophistication of this particular client," Reed says. The landscape architect and the architect had worked together before and knew that they connected in the way they read landscapes. Speaking generally, Reed says LaRosa is "interested in a greater artifice of landscape than I am—not to say that we disagree but rather that we reach a middle ground. He feeds off that in his architecture, and I find our exchanges healthy and refreshing."

The Hither Lane collaborators hope this project, where landscape and building were conceived as a single entity, appears seamless. It helps to see Hither Lane in that light. The product of this smooth collaboration is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Project Credits
Landscape architect: Reed Hilderbrand Associates, Inc., Watertown, Massachusetts: Douglas Reed, ASLA, Lisa Morris, Adrian Smith, ASLA, Sylvia Palms, ASLA, and John Kett. Architect: B Five Studio, New York City: Salvatore LaRosa. Landscape contractor: Whitmores, East Hampton, New York. Building contractor: Andreasse and Bulgin Construction, Southampton, New York. Sculptural fence fabricator: DeAngelis Ironwork, South Easton, Massachusetts. Mason: Seven Sons, East Hampton, New York.


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