Telegraph Hill Residence
San Francisco, CA, USA | Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
They made land out of air. The materials expressed themselves as they are. Really poetic.
- 2017 Awards Jury
- Andrea Cochran, FASLA
- Horng-Sheng Tu, ASLA
- Jeremy Tsai
- Sarah Keizer
- Amir Kunin
- Lundberg Design
- Firma Design Group
- GFDS Engineers
- Axiom Engineers
- Summit Engineers
- Audio Visual Engineers
- Van Acker Construction Associates
- Curtis Edward Dennison Landscape
Paving and Stone Contractor
- Omni Stone Masonry
- Product and Design & Complete Fabrications
- Adorno Construction;
- Rushton & Hawley
The Telegraph Hill Residence landscape design expands and dramatizes the entry sequence and exterior spaces of an existing hillside residence by dissolving the barrier between the user and the expansive landscape beyond. A carefully choreographed entry sequence along an entry stair welcomes the visitor, creating moments for pause, respite and drama while negotiating the substantial grade change from the sidewalk to the front door. Along the sequence, clean walls of corten steel contrast with raw cliff face and plantings, while planes of glass at the end of the overlooks bring the user within a visceral proximity to the cliff drop underneath. At the rear of the house, a sheltered shade garden, comprised of soft plantings, blossoming trees, and permeable materials provides a quiet refuge. The design elicits visceral responses to the landscape as a source of both introspection and connection to the larger environment.
SITE + CLIENT
The clients had relocated to a dense San Francisco neighborhood from a bucolic suburban property, wishing to have a more urban lifestyle. After completing the design process with the landscape architect for a house on another site, they found and purchased this unique property for its incredible views and location on the edge of Telegraph Hill. The existing house is perched on a 9,600 -square-foot lot along a steep unbuildable ravine looking East over the Bay Bridge. The site is comprised of several areas: the existing brick entry driveway and walk, a stairway leading to the front door, a brick terrace on an abandoned street right-of-way, a rear shade garden, and a portion of the cliff which supports a grove of mature eucalyptus trees inhabited by resident flocks of parrots.
The landscape architects had worked with the client on several other projects and understood that the couple wished to create a private modern home and garden. However, because of the historic nature of the site and neighborhood, including the preservation of the historic street right-of-way that now forms the terrace on the east side of the residence, the renovation was subject to intense design review and scrutiny by the local neighborhood group and planning department, who required the clients to preserve the historic character of the existing house, along with the brick paving and the historic brick walls at the edge of an abandoned street right of way.
At the same time, the architect proposed lowering the garage and basement six feet to provide additional usable square footage for the house and to reduce the slope of the driveway, providing a level area at the garage for cars to turn around and exit safely to the street. This elevation change required completely reconfiguring the driveway access to the garage and the residence; no small feat given the requirements for use of brick, the proximity of the driveway to the ravine and the neighbors’ foundations. Additionally, there were technical constraints and challenges due to the instability of the cliffs below. The team, working with geotechnical engineers, was required to preserve and to protect the integrity of the cliff—and to respect that other cliffs in the area had collapsed in the past. The challenge lay in creating more useable space here, making it possible to invite users to the cliff edge without compromising their safety or the stability of the site.
PHILOSOPHY + INTENT
On any given day, the site experiences a large amount of wind, cold, and fog off the San Francisco Bay. At the same time, the views from the site toward the East Bay, waterfront, and downtown are unparalleled. It was important for the design team to create exterior spaces for the clients that would highlight and expand access to the landscape, while also considering the need for private refuge and comfort.
The project draws inspiration from the landscape as a source of both prospect and refuge. In designing the front entry stair, the landscape architects took advantage of the challenging spatial conditions to create the additional terrace space necessary to access the views from the site, and to design an experiential journey leading from the driveway gate to the front door. A carefully choreographed entry sequence leads the user along a sloped stone pathway and up the stair, which ascends through lush garden spaces that open out to overlooks and terraces offering wide views of the surrounding landscape. The corten steel overlooks cantilever precipitously at the edge of the cliff, terminating in sheets of glass that dissolve the barrier between the user and the expansive landscape beyond. While the overlooks invite the user to enjoy the views, a porous ground plane of steel grating intensifies the psychological and physical experience by permitting views downward to the substantial drop below. Stepping from solid ground onto one of these overlooks triggers a variety of responses, from a sense of floating to one of vertigo.
The shade garden at the rear of the house buffers the residence from the adjacent neighbors’ home. Special care was taken to preserve and restore the existing walls and trees, which had significant unearthed potential. The space is accessible from the house, acting as a refuge from the wind and fog and opening up the residence for sheltered outdoor use. At the focal point of the garden stands a weathered corten steel wall that anchors the decomposed granite and highlights the vibrancy of the flowering dogwood trees, and screening a fourteen-foot concrete retaining wall beyond. The garden’s design makes space for a meditative experience for daily yoga, while also acting as a spillover space for parties—a valuable contribution to the feeling of a private green sanctuary in an urban context.
MATERIALITY + SUSTAINABILITY
The landscape architects were challenged to find materials that would blend with the brick paving yet contribute to the feeling of a modern home that the clients desired. The team chose corten steel for the terraces to blend with the warmth of the brick, and to stand in stark contrast to the soft plantings and rough cliff face. Honed gray basalt pavers serve as a neutral counterpoint to the brick. Together, the materials underscore a feeling of sanctuary within the urban context along with a visceral connection to the cliff edge. Throughout the design process, the team was sensitive to opportunities for the reuse, preservation, and reclamation of materials. The reconfigured driveway was constructed using reclaimed bricks, while the restructured stairways create space for new plantings that were selected for their drought tolerance. The landscape architects restored and updated the shade garden as an intimate, contemplative space defined by plantings and permeable surfaces. The garden is visible from the kitchen and exercise room, and preserves most of the original trees while adding new plantings, a deck made of recycled rice hulls (serving as a platform for yoga), stone seating suited to contemplation, and a fire feature. At the brick patio, a green roof planted with mixed succulents creates additional green space and regulates temperatures in the urban heat island.
Product Sources: FURNITURE
- Shade Garden Fire Pit - Cuboid 80 Concrete fire pit by Concreteworks
- Shade Garden hot stones - SOMA stones with radiant heat by Concreteworks
Product Sources: DRAINAGE/EROSION
Product Sources: FENCES/GATES/WALLS
- Gate - Custom
- Concrete boardformed walls - Scofield color #6063, Winter Beige
Product Sources: IRRIGATION
Product Sources: LUMBER/DECKING/EDGING
- Deck - Resysta deck material
- Landscape Edge - Dura-Edge
- Vehicle Turntable - Carousel USA, Residential turntable
Product Sources: GREEN ROOFS/LIVING WALLS
- Custom green roof - By Curtis Edward Dennison Landscape
Product Sources: SOILS
Product Sources: HARDSCAPE
Product Sources: LIGHTING