Winner of the LILA 2022 in Private Gardens

This tiny urban backyard was transformed into a rich and dense layering of atmospheres and uses. The design recycles already extracted but discarded granite blocks from a local quarry – a sustainable attitude of working with the land. The charcoal grey, or ‘Graveyard’ granite, as central feature, pays homage to the depths of the local strata. The design explores the conventional concept of extending the interior spaces into the garden, yet done by an interweaving and shifting of wild landscape, threshholds and architectural planes. So, the tiny garden space is experienced as much larger than it is. The sunken garden ‘quarry’ is embedded in a dense thicket of birches and hemlocks, creating a mysterious atmosphere which neither the body, mind nor spirit can tire of.

For an American context, the Quarry garden is surprisingly modest, effortlessly disconnecting from the more traditional codes where a garden would often be dominated by an abundance of features, shapes and things.

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Wild respite, material richness and modern simplicity are the foundation for the Quarry Garden. Situated in an urban neighborhood in south Minneapolis, the Quarry Garden transforms a typical residential yard into a collection of wild garden rooms. The heart of the garden is a 25’ x 50’ sunken granite “quarry”, wrapped by a thicket of forty whitespire birch and hemlock trees. In this quiet and meditative space, the city disappears.

The backyard started as a typical residential lot with a patchy lawn, two large maple trees in significant decline, and a swing set left over from the previous owners. The first floor of the house is 3’ above the exterior grade, which created an awkward transition between the back porch and the yard and disconnected the interior and exterior spaces.

Abstract concept collages celebrating Minnesota’s geological and ecological context catalyzed the design direction, exploring how a wild landscape can be structured and experienced through a series of shifting planes, frames, and thresholds (both architectural and vegetal). The garden is organized as a continuation of the existing sequence of living rooms on the first floor of the house, transitioning from domestic to wild. The collages also tested ideas of mass and void within the garden, situating elevated wood plinths alongside granite-framed voids.

A key element of the design was the self-imposed limitation to draw from unwanted charcoal grey granite “graveyard” at the Coldspring Quarry near St. Cloud, MN to construct the sunken quarry space. Inspired by the challenge to recycle materials that had already been extracted from the ground, the landscape architect carefully inventoried and designed the sunken quarry using a range of discarded unique granite pieces. The result is a richly tactile landscape that is carefully pieced together and that honors the unique characteristics and authentic raw beauty of the stone.

Five distinct outdoor rooms make up the Quarry Garden: the sunken quarry, the floating deck, the porch, the outdoor kitchen, and the green alley. The rooms are carefully designed to extend the experience of “living” from inside to outside, through the porch, onto the deck, and ultimately into the birch grove and down into the quarry.

A variety of granite pieces ranging in size from 3’ wide by 5-10’ long slabs were used to create the walls of the quarry and a massive 4’ wide by 8’ tall stone wedge was used as a sculptural element to anchor and book-end the floating bridge. The sunken quarry steps down two feet into the earth, where a carpet of crushed granite aggregate hosts a custom gas fire slab and grounds the room. A 2’ wide live edge oak board bench was custom designed to nest into the stone walls, creating a signature seating element adjacent to the fire pit.

Inspired by the ecological context of Minnesota, the clients were committed to transforming the expansive underutilized lawn areas into an ecologically productive and sustainable garden using native plants. Forty whitespire birch and hemlock trees shade a native woodland groundcover of Pennsylvania sedge and sweet woodruff. Surrounded by tactile natural materials, ambient sound, and dappled light, the sunken quarry is an immersive place for respite, relaxation, and intimate conversations.

The floating deck extends the first floor of the house through the porch, onto the deck and across the floating bridge into the garden, stitching the indoor and outdoor rooms together. The large sliding screen doors and architectural veil wrapping the porch are operable, closing to create intimacy or opening to pull the garden into the house. The picnic tables on the porch can easily be moved out to the deck, while the movable furniture can migrate between the sunken quarry and the deck. The flexibility of these spaces to transform and the playfulness of “outdoor” rooms, veils or screens, thresholds, hallways, bridges, steps, and terraces blurs the notion of having discrete interior or exterior spaces.

The floating deck and bridge are crafted from sustainably harvested black locust decking. The wood slats wrap the edges of the deck to create the appearance of a thickened plinth that hovers above the garden.

Alongside the house, the woodland garden with serviceberry, whitespire birch, swiss stone pine and columnar white pine trees is interrupted by a granite slab path that defines a meandering experience through the “green alley”. Strategically placed trees are intended to both screen views from inside the house to the neighboring house and to bring vibrant seasonal colors into the living spaces. The fences wrapping the garden were stained black, allowing the edges of the property to disappear into the background. The aluminum veil that wraps the porch and upper terrace is operable to enclose or expose the porch. When the veil is open, it slides into the green alley space – framing views into the long narrow garden.

Architecture offices involved in the design: MSR Design

Project location
Minneapolis, MN

Design year: 2016

Year Built: 2020

Photo Credit: Gaffer Photography

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