10 residential landscapes, honored in a competition in landscape architecture by the James Rose Center.
In the sea of cul-de-sacs and cookie-cutter developments that has come to characterize North America’s suburbs, there is a cultural shift under way, one that is making conservation and sustainability an integral part of the everyday suburban residential environment. That shift is precisely what inspired Suburbia Transformed, a provocative competition and exhibition mounted this year by the James Rose Center for Landscape Architectural Research and Design in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The competition, according to the call for entries, aims to recognize “solutions to the ubiquitous small-lot, detached single-family, residential condition in the hope that we may better understand how to transform suburbia.” The 10 residential landscapes honored in the competition—and showcased in a companion exhibition at the Rose Center this past fall—were chosen by jury from among a variety of submissions by garden designers, landscape architects, architects, and homeowners from around the country, and internationally.
The guiding spirit of Suburbia Transformed—and the research center’s namesake—is the iconoclastic landscape architect and theorist James Rose (1913–1991), most often remembered as one of the three Harvard students who rebelled against their Beaux Arts training in the 1930s and who helped to usher the profession of landscape architecture into the modern era. “Rose incorporated a conservation ethic into a modern design aesthetic for the residential garden,” says Dean Cardasis, the director of the James Rose Center, which is housed in Rose’s 1953 residence and has been open to the public since 1993. In Rose’s view, successful residential environments are “neither landscape nor architecture, but both; neither indoors, nor outdoors, but both.”
The success of the first competition has prompted a second one, with the call for entries in spring 2010. “We will continue with the theme Suburbia Transformed,” says Cardasis, “because this subject hasn’t been fully exploited yet. While many people are doing ‘green design,’ we feel it is also important to recognize inspiring, sculptural, and artistic experiences in the suburban landscape.” For more information visit jamesrosecenter.org.
In Brooklyn, collaborators Dinorah Matias and Todd Haiman designed a sustainable solution to their clients' problematic driveway. The existing asphalt was cracking, pot-holed, consistently failing and flooding during rainstorms. As per local ordinances, they could not repave or re-pitch the driveway to direct storm water into the street. The design solution reused pressure-treated boards from the demolished rear deck installed in the pea gravel driveway. The boards seem to float on the surface but in reality sit upon a "wooden carriage" allowing storm water to percolate, thereby reducing urban runoff.
The drainage channel, an environmental work of art, is an undulating glacial stone surface that slows and holds rainwater from the upper parking lot and street, which otherwise floods this area after a cloudburst. Surface water flows and is absorbed as a spatial expression, moving through this sculpted swale.
This Amherst, Mass., project relates to the transformation of a 100-year-old barn into a living unit and a contemporary garden. The design process recycled architectural and landscape spaces expressing growth and change over time. Bounded by basalt stone walls, the carpet of grass and moss reflects the seasons and variations in rainfall. The soil is underlaid with deep gravel to move rainwater away from the residence.
Spaces carved from the landscape overlook dramatic panoramic views of Acadia National Park. New planting beds, an orchard and groves of native trees encircle the house. Here, lawn paths weave through new shrub and perennial borders providing important paths of circulation between spaces.
A contemporary farmhouse sited at the hide point of a south-facing slope in Downeast Maine was floating in a sea of rough turf. Intensive site-wide mowing and fertilizing had destroyed biodiversity and the existing landscape seemed placeless and exposed. Matthew Cunningham's new economically conscious master plan for the site addressed areas of mown lawn, allowing it to regenerate into a meadow. The property has received no supplemental seeding or irrigation.
The hues of the pavers and gravel echo the materials used in the construction of the house. The linear pavers complement the lines of the architecture and help to make the landscape an extension of the house rather than a separate element. Senecio and other drought-tolerant plants and grasses spill over the edges of the pavers and add vibrant shades of green and texture to the landscape.
For a long-neglected, 6,350-square-foot property in Sausalito, California, Shades of Green Landscape Architecture responded to the clients' request for a budget-friendly, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant and edible garden. The new design offers an oasis of green with lush, undulating no-mow grass, bright flowering plants and vegetable beds. Plants and grass were carefully chosen to create an aesthetically-pleasing, while also sustainable, landscape.
When introducing paving materials to the site, LeBlanc used resources common to the Cape Cod vernacular to define a variety of bold, contemporary outdoor spaces. These materials ranged from raised wooden boardwalks to a simple stone terrace accented with bands of stone collected at a nearby beach. Here, bands of bluestone and gathered beach rocks define the ground plane of the "shade garden."
A climbing rose tails above the aperture in the garden wall, which frames the interior courtyard view. The feeling of enclosure will increase as the plantings mature, providing a striking contrast with open vistas across an adjacent meadow.
Landscape architect Keith LeBlanc's project for clients in Truro, Massachusetts, illustrates one strategy for sensibly incorporating residential development in an environmentally responsible manner - on a one-acre lot set within a new subdivision on Cape Cod. By allowing the existing conditions to guide the new development, the designers were able to significantly reduce the levels of disruptive earthwork on the site. Here, the elevated wood boardwalk lined with a band of grass leads to the entry of the main residence.
Sustainable choices such as re-purposing stones from the septic system to create, in one instance a stone path, in another, a natural seat and bird bath, were used to develop a landscape that is unique in its environment. Seen here, a view from the home's vine-covered porch provides a cool shaded seating spot on hot summer days. The design approach ". . . fosters a deeper relationship with the environment and creates a condition that could potentially carry through an entire neighborhood – where residences are no longer patches or even modules, but points within a field of continuous natural systems," explained Cohen in her entry submission.
In Newtown, Connecticut, landscape designer Billie Cohen used the existing environment of the 1.08 acre-property as the backbone for her design. Plants were selectively removed and native growth allowed to determine the form of the landscape, creating an environment that exists in direct contrast to the typical suburban landscape. This hill became two feet higher after septic fill was added to accommodate the leaching fields. The "meadow" was created simply by not mowing the lawn, except for one strip to create the walking path.
A renovation of a mid-century cinderblock ranch house in Sarasota, Florida, inspired the sustainable and modern exterior design. Landscape architect Dane Spencer collaborated with the architect, Greg Hall, to open up two sides of the home's living room with a corner sliding door. As a result, the home, lanai, garden and pool are emotionally and visually connected. Solar panels mounted on the home's roof provided added energy to the property. Elsewhere on the site, a 3,000-gallon cistern and two 165 -gallon rain basins collect rain water before it runs offsite.
The lanai is an extension of the living room and the living room is an extension of the lanai. From inside, the doors open and draw one's attention outside to the garden. Most of the home's original terrazzo floors were retained while shell concrete used outdoors complements the design as a "new terrazzo."
An outdoor dining room is surrounded by cedar, pine, bayberry and beach grass. An existing brick and concrete patio was replaced with a cedar pallet that rests on sleepers set directly into the sand. The tight-grained cedar weathers naturally without treatment, eliminating chemicals leaching into the sand.
A slow, winding stair rises through a thicket of native plants whose roots stabilize the dunes while keeping the residence private from nearby roads and a parking area. The property is located in a shoreline subdivision 400 feet from the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern end of Long Island. Originally, the site was part of a fragile secondary dune. Dirtworks Landscape Architecture planted native materials that prevent erosion and create a natural wind barrier.