Editor's Choice

Arroyo Seco

designed by /

Location: California / Type: Gardens / Built: 2014 /
Published on March 11, 2019

Across the street from Lacey Park in San Marino, California, a sprawling wooded property with a number of buildings occupies one and a half acres, tucked away off a private road. The unique challenge and great opportunity was to transform the property into an authentically unified experience, driven by a strong role and vision for the landscape.

The original structures on the property are a modestly sized mid-century home, built in 1954 and designed by Carl Straub, and a free-standing garage. The house was updated, the garage was converted into a photography studio/library and a range of new buildings were added to create an extraordinary residential micro-campus. Taking inspiration from the ethos of indoor/outdoor living, as expressed in the mid-century architecture of the primary structure, a series of outdoor spaces flow from one to another throughout the expansive property. These spaces were conceived and developed to create new experiences that would be an extension of the architecture and offer new ways of using the landscape as part of the family’s daily life. The crisp geometry of the primary circulation and patios services a transition from architecture to landscape, and paired with winding paths and informal trails, creates a natural hierarchy of movement. Filled with oaks and redwoods, and influenced by the proximity to the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena, the garden’s warm palette of low-water need native, subtropical and Meditarranean plantings strive to artfully emulate the indigenous landscape.

The landscape project rolled out over several years, following and responding to the development and construction of the various buildings. The first phase of the project focused on creating a new entry experience for the family. As they enter the top of the property, near a new ceramic studio, the entry was conceived of as not only a way to enter the home, but to create a dynamic experience that offers multiple opportunities to use and spend time in the upper garden. productive kitchen garden was designed with raised and in-ground beds, filled with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, and interplanted with fragrant flowers for cutting and ornamental plants to insure that the kitchen has interest and beauty year-round. A large built-in sitting bench with custom furniture provides a comfortable and accessible area for frequent family dining, including meals that are often made from the garden. The second phase of landscape design and installation is the highly focal roof of the photography studio, which can be viewed inside and out. Rather than plant it with a mono-culture, the design took inspiration from the pour paintings of the 1960’s, specifically the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, and interpreted their work into a graphic flowing pattern using a variety of colorful succulents. Other green roofs on the property are treated more subtlety to blend in with the greater landscape, with the intention of softening and blurring the lines between landscape and architecture. The third phase of the project tackled the largest and most complex aspects of the project. A hierarchy of hardscape links the new contemporary structures with the historic buildings. A layering of primary, secondary and tertiary circulation was defined by material choices, combining hard surfaces made of concrete, pebbles and stone with rustic materials, such as landscape ties and decomposed granite. Modes of movement also communicate intent, with straight direct walkways indicating primary paths, and meandering sinuous trails imagined for strolling.

Within the network of choreographed movement, a variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses are woven into fulsome compositions that change and evolve as one moves through the spaces and the seasons. Exploring color, texture, form and scale, the rich plant culture responds to the specific climate conditions of the site, which is both sunny and shady, flat and hilly, and attracts birdlife and pollinators. A series of outdoor rooms complete the experience, with every detail taken into consideration and planning. A generous seating area surrounding a firepit offers day into night enjoyment of the garden, in concert with subtle lighting. Wide stairs lead to built-in poolside seating and provide generous access to the outbuildings. Small patios are discovered along the trails and provide quiet private spaces.

The clients entertain frequently, with outdoor dinners of two dozen to events of two hundred, and the landscape accommodates all scales of gatherings while maintaining a sense of intimacy. Overall, the goal was to activate the large property, connect it to its place, the greater landscape and its inhabitants. During the last few years, it has become that and much more – an environment that offers a respite, a garden that is shared with many and a landscape that has been woven into the fabric of the lives of its owners and stewards.

Landscape Architect: Elysian Landscapes
Project Architects: Fung + Blatt (pool design) and Plain Air (custom outdoor furniture design)
Project location: California, USA
Design year: 2011-2013
Year Built: 2012-2014

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