On Design: Christy Ten Eyck

On Design: Christy Ten Eyck

January 29, 2010
Photo by: Steve Gunther

An environmentally sensitive tranformation of her own office in Phoenix, Arizona, won landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects a Green Award in the Corporate Landscapes category. Her designs often rely on native plants and show the power of gardens to connect with people. She believes in bringing nature and people together — especially in urban places, especially wherever there’s concrete to tear up.   


Q: What’s especially green about the design for your office building?

A: Recycling an existing building is one the most environmentally responsible actions available in a city such as Phoenix. The old asphalt parking lot became a parking garden with permeable pavers and crushed granite interplanted with mesquite trees. A wire-mesh scrim and overhang add natural shade and cooling. We recycled old concrete walkways by breaking them up and re-using the pieces for a patio.

Q: At what point did you begin to appreciate the desert’s natural landscape?

A: Early in my career, I had something like a religious experience on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. The plant life, the birds and the way that water cuts forms through the geology all hooked me on Arizona’s wild, raw landscape. I wanted to make it part of whatever I created. 

Q: What has inspired you?

A: Brimming bowls, as in Moorish gardens, inspire me by using the least amount of water for the most effect. They suggest that water is abundant, which of course it isn’t in an arid climate.

Q: With natural water sources scarce in the Southwest, how do you use it in a sustainable way?

A: Water is a sacred element, essential for an outdoor space. We try to celebrate the path of water when it comes — typically in flash-flood fashion. We design small water features and “ephemeral fountains” that run intermittently like a desert arroyo.

Q: In your residential work, how do you combine the comforts of a garden with nature’s occasional harshness — you know, the spiny, dry, snaky parts? 

A: That depends on how tough the client is. For a Texas client afraid of varmints, we created a retaining wall to edge her space but made it low enough to capture the views. Myself, I love wild space coming right up to the patio of my own garden — where I have enjoyed watching two owls chase a snake.