Varda Landing is both a remnant and emergent ad hoc creative waterfront community in Sausalito, California, adjacent to our sister site Marinship Studios. Historically, this area was known as the Gate 5 commune which saw some of the most seminal artists, creatives and thinkers of the 20th century pass through including Agnes Varda, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, Ruth Asawa and Maya Angelou.
Like Marinship, Varda Landing – and its corresponding landscape – continues to shapeshift and evolve with both planned and organic developments.
While the long-term future of the site is a question mark (largely depending on planning and permitting approvals and climate change impacts), we worked with Founder and Program Director Max Houtzager to come up with a rolling series of landscape interventions balancing quick and spontaneous design moves with longer term strategic planning and visioning, working in a collaborative process with the client and architecture firm EYRC (who led the site masterplan) to continuously iterate and tinker with the site.
We sought to create a more cohesive landscape story that would stitch together what was admittedly a bit of a disjointed mess of a site, which is primarily a parking lot, and create an actual place for both residents and visitors. The site features a number of assorted dwellings – a historic barge, seven houseboats, a cottage, a shed and art production structure and a vacant A-frame. In an organic process that brought together the past, present and future of the site, we strove to curate and cultivate an inherent coastal bohemian landscape aesthetic while responding to its climate sensitivities.
In response to flooding and future sea level rise, we integrated climate resilient strategies throughout, directing tidal water into coastal marsh zones at the perimeter of the site allowing the landscape to concede and recede in response to the reality of the environment changing in real time around us. The marsh zones also create a new quasi-public community-oriented space with open seating areas where residents can gather amongst strange sculptural objects and native plantings. We actively raised the grade and introduced gravel on site as a connective layer and created new earthen mounds both to direct tidal water and to create planting depth for trees to grow above the saltwater flood zone. As we had done at Marinship Studios, some trees on site will remain boxed forever, as to allow future mobility in times of change.
For the planting strategy, we removed all invasive non-natives and planted a lush mix of coastal grasses including Festuca rubra, Deschampsia cespitosa, and Carex praegracilis with drifts of native Iris underneath a scattering of Cypress trees. We elongated on the fiction of our California Japanese Native Coastal Aesthetic that was honed at Marinship Studios. A great underappreciated native shrub Baccharis pilularis holds down the boulder planting edges and is the perfect foil to the grassy wind swept grasses. Coastal gumplant trails over the rock surfaces. We intentionally added habitat diversity using a matrix of native salt-loving marsh plantings to tidal zones and areas prone to seasonal flooding – Salt Grass, Pickleweed, and Alkali Heath Crickets now drown out the water slapping at the hulls.
At the entrance to the historic barge at the waters edge, which currently exists as a private residence but in future planning phases will be a community space that celebrates the working creative Sausalito waterfront, we collaborated with the Harbormaster Julian Gilbert on a sculptural installation of concrete columns to define this moment. We did a series of mockups experimenting with different concrete formulations and processes to achieve just the right amount of imprecision in the columns, with Julian hand casting approximately 120 concrete columns over a few months time. We then set them by hand, re-set them again by hand, and reset them again and again by hand as if we were drawing as building
The current iteration of Varda Landing plays into Sausalito’s idiosyncratic waterfront houseboat culture and creates a moody dreamy landscape vibe that weaves together site, material, light, water, mountains, and fog.
Landscape Architecture: Terremoto (Kasey Toomey, Alain Peauroi and David Godshall)
Landscape Construction: Manuel Fernandez and Julian + Rob + Jael.
Photos by Caitlin Atkinson + process photos by LOS TERREMOTOS
Client: Max Houtzager