Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry

With a one-year-old daughter, I think about geometry more than usual, along with the other essentials – language, music, numbers, etc. She seems naturally drawn to everyday patterns like these and absorbs them effortlessly. You can practically hear the synapses crackle as it happens.

I recently discovered the work of Anne Tyng, San Francisco-based architect, who developed a means of spatial exploration using some of the most elemental structures known, the Platonic solids. Although the study of advanced geometry and its application to design is nothing new, Tyng set a clear precedent more than fifty years ago for the current crop of artists and architects working along similar lines.

"...geometry is both rational and expressive, as much a means of contemplation as of calculation and construction."

Let's hope she's working on a line of toddler bedroom furniture.

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.

A Lush Bernal Heights Garden and Patio Redesign

I have been doing a handful of quick projects for friends this summer, and the following drawings are for a residence in Bernal Heights, San Francisco. The client has a huge expanse of brick that I am proposing they cut back and re-edge to help define the central patio space. Their house is a charming former storefront with an amazing lookout tower, and I have suggested the introduce a strong single curve to play off of the mass of the architecture, and bring in mixed tropical & mediterranean style plantings to add some lushness. In addition, stepped landings, rectilinear stepping stones, and vertical lath screening and fencing will provide some visual richness, and a new modestly sized lawn will give their family an outdoor surface for play and relaxation.

Masterplan for Puget Sound Waterfront Lot

I am putting together a masterplan and design recommendations for my family's property on Puget Sound, in Port Orchard, Washington. And as I work, I realize that there is no project that will come as close to my heart as this one.

My grandparents retired here from Seattle thirty years ago, and divided the property into four lots in order to give parcels to each of their three daughters. My grandmother lives here still, and my parents live in a house next door that our family designed and built in the early 90's.

Both of my grandparents were master gardeners: my grandfather's plant notebooks, garden plans and love of this place are what inspired me to pursue landscape architecture. My parents and aunts also love gardening and design, making it a joy to begin to imagine some subtle changes that will provide a framework for the love and care that will continue to be poured into the land.

We've commissioned a survey, and with the drawings I produce, we hope to preserve and enhance what my grandparents imagined for their children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren Freya, Felix, Sasha and Ovidia.

Peter Zumthor's Thinking Architecture

Sometimes, before I read design theory, I take a deep breath, anticipating a long slog through unnecessarily complex diction, written by people whose primary talent is not writing. Not so with Peter Zumthor. Thinking Architecture was an arresting, emotional description of Zumthor's attitudes about materiality, space and the natural world, and one of my favorite reads this year.

Thinking Architecture is full of descriptions of the most heartfelt, familiar kind. The moods, smells and texture's of his aunt's kitchen, a modest farmhouse with windows that feel just right, the pleasures of experiencing prospect refuge on the mezzanine of a trendy hotel. It reminds me of why I love design and specifically why I love designing residential spaces. "There is a power in the ordinary things of everyday life..."

Design Ideas for a San Francisco Entry Garden

I have been doing a handful of small projects in between preparations for my class, bookkeeping, and marketing tasks (oh the joys of a small design shop!). These little packets of design recommendations are great for home owners with limited budgets who want some professional guidance, but can't afford to divert too much of their overall budget into design.

Not sure where you fit in? Think about a grand total budget for your project. Design services shouldn't exceed 10% of that amount. Now, good design takes time: it is never mindless, easy and fast (damn you, HGTV). But don't despair. A package of well considered plant recommendations, quick perspective drawings and a simple plan can often be done in less than 20 hours.


Well, almost. I just finished my semester teaching at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, and had a wonderful time. An amazing group of students, of diverse ages, interests and backgrounds, I hope they got as much out of it as I did. It's a great challenge to think about how to teach the design process; it was an education for all of us.


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.

A teaching appointment at UC Berkeley

Starting the week of January 17th, I will be teaching an undergraduate landscape architecture studio at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, and will have limited availability on Mondays and Wednesdays. I am thrilled to be teaching this semester and look forward to helping a great group of talented undergrads find their voice in a complex field. We will be working on two site design projects in San Francisco and I will be sure to share our progress and bits of our syllabus as the semester progresses.

Happy New Year to all!

ASLA's Sustainable Landscapes

The American Society of Landscape Architects has launched a splashy new website introducing a broad definition of sustainability as it relates to site construction and landscape architecture. The intended audience seems to be the public, and anyone else who might not have a clue what it is we do. Twenty case studies illustrate various sustainable design elements and by reading through them all, I feel like the range in scale and detail shows just how broad the field is, and how micro and macro decision making is crucial to working in a less environmentally hazardous way.

Critique and controversy are sorely missed. I think the ASLA can still champion its award winning projects and its mission and still ask tough questions. Is it more sustainable to do nothing? Do we care if it's ugly? What trends here are just aesthetic trends, and what elements are innovations that will really change how we work? I don't have the answers, and I am a admirer of many of the case study projects. I am just always hoping for more, more, more.

Maybe I'm just sore they've used my color scheme!

A Wine Country Entry Garden

At Templeton Ridge Winery and Burbank Vineyards the clients are passionate, creative people embarking on the exciting task of building a vineyard and winery from scratch. They love their setting, the view and the greater landscape, but disliked many aspects of the style and quality of the home on the site.

The view above shows the entry in transition. Soon it will be surrounded by drifts of olives, waves of golden grasses, and simplified concrete paving that will compliment and quiet the angularity of the house.

The photo below shows the existing entry that greeted us at the main house when Nicole Kelly and I began our project.

DIY Landscape Staging Handbook

I've recently completed a quick handbook of staging recommendations for a Lower Pacific Heights Edwardian home in San Francisco. The owner is having her interior professionally staged by a staging company and recognized that a good deal of attention was needed for her exterior spaces as well.

The house is gorgeous, but was lost behind a hodge podge of dead and dying plants in mismatched planters and crumbling diagonal lattice. I proposed a series of quick fixes for each exterior space, including the entry garden, interior light wells and two small decks. As soon as it's officially on the market, I'll update my blog with listing info!

Landscape Renderings for a Shanghai Park

I just completed some work for Meyer + Silberberg, assisting them with some renderings for a new waterfront park on the shores of Dianshan Lake, on the outskirts of Shanghai. As always, it was a pleasure working with that office; I've never known designers to be more thoughtful or throw their heart and soul into every last detail the way they do.

The park will be beautiful, Sinuous, braiding marshes, long grand pedestrian and bicycle promenades and amazing waterfront amenities.

The park will be beautiful, Sinuous, braiding marshes, long grand pedestrian and bicycle promenades and amazing waterfront amenities.

Landscape Plans for Marin Midcentury Modern

We are in the bid process for the Midcentury ranch landscape in San Rafael.  The design was a fun collaboration with the client (a designer herself) and myself. She was inspired by the Portland residence that Third Nature Studio completed last year. There are a few similarities, but this garden will be distinctly Californian.

Olive Tree Placement at Templeton Ridge

The rainbow makes the construction site look deceptively peaceful. It's busy at the Templeton Ridge Winery residence these days. Field grown olives have just been placed and its a thrill and a relief to see the neighbor's house disappear. I'm sure the clients are looking forward to some peace: swimming amidst the grapes and looking out at the hills - it's not too far off now.

Lonny Magazine - Modern Interiors Online

Fans of the now defunct Domino Magazine will be happy to discover Lonny Magazine available only online. It feels like how all magazines will be presented in the very near future; it's easy to navigate, and gorgeous to look at. There is always a smattering of gardens and exteriors shots, especially in the spring/summer issues. Images in the magazine are linked to corresponding retail sites, which can prove to be very dangerous...