Inspirational Places

Saivu: Gateway for Norwegian National Park

I am prone to think of the Norwegian landscape as a place rich in folklore and fairy tales. As a child, I associated much of what I saw and experienced in Norwegian forests with my favorite books, and most of my memories and familiarity with Norway are those of a child visiting her grandparents. Mossy, lichen covered rocks, clearings full of wild blue berries, long cross country ski trips to frozen lakes make all of that magic just feel right.

Eriksen Skajaa ArchitectsPUSHAK Architects and Bjørbekk & Lindheim Landscape Architects recently won a competition to design a Gateway for Sjunkhatten National Park near Bodø, Norway. The project, titled Saivu, draws its formal vocabulary from the Sami language, nomadic building, and the romance of folklore and fairytale.

It has been difficult for me to reconcile the idyllic Norway in my head with the reality of a complex, contemporary society, and the surreality of recent events. This project is a thoughtful celebration of the Norwegian landscape, and I smile when I think about the wonder and delight a project like this can inspire.

2011 ASLA Design Awards Announced

The American Society of Landscape Architects announced its 2011 Award winners this week. I was thrilled to see the UC Berkeley program well represented in the student awards category. Several honors were given to students I was and am lucky enough to have working with me in my studios as Graduate Student Instructors. Congratulations to Darryl, Cat, Rob & all of your collaborators.

As always, I poured over the residential projects looking for something noteworthy. I love this little garden from the Carnegie Hill House in New York designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz. The placement of the ginkgo row at the entry of the garden rather than the perimeter creates a beautiful screen and threshold to what looks like an incredibly rich landscape. Nicely done.

Greenland goes BIG

An appropriately otherworldly design by BIG for Greenland's new National Gallery was recently unveiled, the winner chosen from six invited architects. The concept is a response to the rugged and somewhat exotic conditions of Greenland itself, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Greenland has about 60,000 permanent residents, spread out in isolated communities on the southern tip. The largest city, Nuuk, where the museum will be located, has no roads connecting it to the few other small cities, since enormous fjords traverse most of the country's geography.

I work at a cultural institution here in San Francisco, and let's just say I don't envy whoever is responsible for driving ticket sales at Nuuk's latest architectural gem. Practicalities aside, the geometric purity of the design and how it's assimilated into the site's topography make for an eye-popping set of renderings.

Liebermann Treet House in Marin

This is the California that lived in my imagination before I moved here. A Radial (and radical), tree house complex tucked away in the redwoods, built by a serious architect but feeling like a daydream. Daniel J. Liebermann designed and built the house in 1958 for his family. The New York Times recently featured the house in their On Location section, describing the recent purchase and remodel of this amazing place, where the new owners had the magnificent luck of working with the original architect on their renovations. Now they just need some of my help with that slope and patio!

Manka's Inverness Lodge

I just returned from a beautiful wedding reception at Manka's Inverness Lodge on Tomales Bay. The reception was at the Boat House, a beautiful, weathered building on the water with a long pier and amazing views of the bay and surrounding hills. I'm a big fan of Manka's, having had our own wedding dinner in the old lodge before it burned down. I was really impressed with the simple plantings and furnishings on the boat house deck: Mexican Feathergrass, Juncus and Miscanthus were a lovely counterpoint to the grey weathered wood and chartreuse lichen that covered the exterior walls.

Diego Rivera in San Francisco

I recently discovered the Diego Rivera Pan American Unity mural at the Ocean campus of City College of San Francisco. I live and work in the Mission, a neighborhood filled with mural art, but seeing work by Rivera reminded me that his work is something else altogether. Despite my own passion for politics, I usually gravitate towards the apolitical in art. After all, once things get too political don't they turn from art into propaganda? But Rivera is an exception. Amazing composition, energy and color.

Little did I know, but he has four mural projects in the Bay Area: Pan American Unity at City College, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City at the San Francisco Art Institute, The Allegory of California at the City Club of San Francisco, and Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees at Stern Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus.

ASLA 2010 Award Winners

The American Society of Landscape Architects has announced its 2010 Award winners. I tend to gravitate towards the residential projects...

I loved the clever geometry of Scott Lewis' Parkside Garden and the tiny green pavilion tucked away in the back corner of the garden. Green walls can really be overdone and done poorly, yet that little pavilion looks as though it sprouted, beautifully proportioned, from the garden (as opposed to having a tray of succulents hastily nailed to it).

Rumsey Farber's North Sea Residence also impressed me. It's a distinctly modern residence, yet it looks completely in harmony with the surrounding wetland landscape. Nice to see such softness and warmth come out of such crisp clean lines

Congratulations SANAA!

Happy to see that SANAA won the Pritzker Prize this year. Of their projects, I've only experienced the New Museum first hand, but I thorougly enjoyed it, and love the contrast of its meshy white skin to the neighborhood that surrounds it. Something tells me they like the looks of that contrast too. Photographs of their residential projects show crisp architecture accented with hodge podge antique chairs and leggy houseplants in mismatched pots. Their work makes modest little messes look so good.

Photos below are from a visit to the New Museum in August '08. Sam, Laurel, Greg & I contemplate the meshiness.

Travel Diary: India

This morning I was looking through pictures from our travels in India. I’ve included some of the highlights above, and more can be seen at, and the blog we kept can be found at I think one of the most lasting memories from that trip was the death defying rickshaw riding we did. It is truly no exaggeration to say rickshaws in India feel like roller coaster carts gone completely off their rails, zig zagging between cars, trucks, busses, camels moving loads of rebar, 3 people balancing on one little scooter, elephants, goats, monkeys, cows… all that chaos mixed with the peace that comes with the most beautiful food, sweet sweet people, and haunting, timeless landscapes.

Good Fences

It's an overused expression, but I do think good fences make good neighbors, and good fences can be so delightful. There is nothing like a sculptural wall, be it stone, wood or planting to define a space. Here are some favorites that I've come across in the last few years in person and in print, and a couple that I have worked on. Designers, when known, are credited in each image title.

Outdoor Kitchens

I’ve noticed a huge rise in the popularity of outdoor kitchens lately. I love, and am all for barbecues, fire pits, eating areas, pergolas, and pizza ovens, but the huge industrial kitchen structures that have been filling up pages and pages in landscape magazines lately have me a little off put. Why not keep it simple (and keep those energy bills in check)? Attached are some gorgeous examples of affordable, beautiful, eating, lounging and food prep areas.

Gardens of Kaua'i

We recently visited some impressive gardens on Kaua’i, including the Limahuli and Allterton portions of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, as well as the grounds of Kaua’i’s Hindu Monastery. The National Tropical Botanical Gardens are located on Kaua’i, Maui, and in Biscayne Bay, Florida and include everything from formal estate gardens to 1000 year old lava rock planting terraces filled with taro. The Hindu Monastery is a quirky, gorgeously sited retreat, where they are painstakingly building an elaborately carved stone temple by hand. Now I wish I had a little Ganesh with a parasol in my garden too.

If you are ever on Kaua'i...

I couldn’t recommend the Palmwood Bed and Breakfast more highly. This isn’t the kind of bed and breakfast one might normally envision: one of overstuffed furniture, lacy curtains and cat smells. Its the most luxurious and homey place we’ve stayed in a long time. The furnishings are all crafted out of palmwood and leather, giving the place a breezy, relaxing and distinctly Hawaiian feeling. I was so relieved to have a break from the Tuscan/Arts and Crafts/kitschy Hawaiiana fantasias of the south shore when we pulled in here.

Proprietor Eddi Henry is also an amazing cook, and the breakfasts that we faced each morning were a dream. Crabcakes & tropical fruits? Banana Pancakes? Sure. Some starfruit juice with crushed mint to go with that? Don’t mind if I do.

The gardens were lush, and full of palms, bromeliads and bubbling fountains. Not to mention an amazing lava rock outdoor shower. Can you tell its a little hard for me to face the rain and 20 degree drop in temperature here in San Francisco this morning?

Steven Holl's Hamsun Center

Knut Hamsun is one of Norway's Nobel Prize winning authors, and one of the most problematic and divisive figures in its literary history. He was an overt Nazi sympathizer and at the same time, is celebrated as being one of the founders of modern literature.  Architect Steven Holl created a Hamsun Center in Hamsun's home town Presteid, hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle. It sounds like the Center hopes to invite and continue critque of his life and work, rather than celebrate him as a hero, and lets hope it is a step in the right direction for challenging and examining his life and his literature. There is an intriguing article in the Guardian about the Center here.

A Visit to the Getty Vila

I finally made it to the newly reopened Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. My expectations were very high, having read a number of reviews praising the new entry buildings, cafe, grounds and amphitheater, and I have to admit, I left a little disappointed but also thoroughly entertained. The collections are amazing, after all, but that landscape!

The sheer number of materials used in the expansion was a little overwhelming; beautiful board-formed concrete walls and stairs were next to all manner of paving and wall materials - black, red, cream, grey, granites, asphalts, concretes, oh my. The additions had great bones and gestures, and there were a few lovely outdoor spaces including a new square reflecting pool at the base of the cafe terrace. I suppose its no big surprise to be overwhelmed by all things Getty.

Designed landscapes in Film

The Last Year at Marienbad takes the cake, and since I saw that movie, I've been thinking back to all of the other films I've seen where the landscape is intrinsic to the plot and feel of the film. When I think of the natural landscape as a main player, I think of Days of Heaven, and Badlands, and even Gerry. But, what I'm interested in now, is rediscovering all of the designed landscapes that are major players.  I've been told I need to see The Passenger...

The Schindler House

I don't think I really understood the potential warmth of minimalism until I went to the Schindler House on King's Road in Los Angeles. The notion that this house and studio will be 100 years old in just 13 years should give all of us a swift kick in the butt to try and come up with something truly contemporary. Its very tempting to be content with such a delicious past.