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Best Hardscape 2018: Design Workshop’s Woody Creek Garden


Best Hardscape 2018: Design Workshop’s Woody Creek Garden

August 22, 2018

The winner of the 2018 Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Hardscape is Design Workshop for its Woody Creek Garden project.

The project was chosen as a finalist by guest judge Brook Klausing, who had this to say: “This hardscaping masterpiece delivers the most sophisticated introduction to the wild west without ever having to step out of your comfort zone.”

N.B.: This is the last of six posts spotlighting the winners of the 2018 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. Go to this year’s Considered Design Awards page to see all the entries, finalists, and winners, and have a look at the Remodelista Considered Design Awards.

Photography by D. A. Horchner/Design Workshop.

Above: “The rectangular pool defines the promontory edge. A thin sheet of water mirrors the sky, introducing the reflected light and pattern to the courtyard.”

Design Workshop’s Design Statement: “Within walled boundaries, Woody Creek Garden embraces its high alpine environment through explorations of stone and water that serve as unifying elements of form in the design of the various outdoor spaces. Through distinctive stonework, water is portrayed in its various states—atmospheric mist, single rivulets, cascades, and still pools.”

Above: “Native plants were used in the reconstruction of the mountain landscape surrounding the residence.”

Gardenista: What does your firm specialize in?
Design Workshop: Design Workshop is a landscape architecture, urban design, and land planning studio. Specifically, the firm has become a national leader in the creation of residential gardens, mostly in the Mountain West. Our practice is dedicated to understanding the vision and needs of our clients. Design Workshop has been named the National Firm of the Year by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Above: “Walls and terraces emphasize the elevated feeling of the garden, a green roof over the space below.”

GD: What were your practical goals for the project?
DW: The residence is located in a geographical region that receives 200 to 300 inches of snow as well as 300 freeze-thaw cycles each year. Because of this unforgiving and harsh climate, the design required an approach with winter in mind. The residence also rests on the north side of a mountain and receives limited sun exposure. In response, we completed a climate study to design strategies for sheltering outdoor spaces from the wind and capturing sunlight. Access to sun led to the design of flexible terraces that allow furniture to be adjusted depending on the time of day.

Above: “An enclosed courtyard exposes the rooms of the house to stone slabs, a misting fountain, and creates a landscape room.”

GD: What solutions did you find to your design problems?
DW: Surrounded by mature aspen woodlands, the property’s transformation required the design team to think about how the client’s desire could be achieved without disturbing the site. As such, the residence and garden are contained by retaining walls to avoid disturbance on an ecologically fragile site. The architecture and landscape is thought of in tandem. For example, the lawn rests atop a portion of the residence, creating a functioning green roof and leaving the steeply sloping site undisturbed.

By limiting the disturbance with walls and adapting the home to the hillside site, the residential garden becomes part of the natural setting. The concept of the garden was adapted to the conditions of high altitude with selections of plant materials, soils on the site, and revegetation methods to establish native plant communities. Plants native to the sub-alpine life zone were utilized in the landscape design. Often unavailable from commercial nurseries, some species were specifically grown for this site.

Above: “From the courtyard side, a slender channel of water spills on to a single concave slab of stone.”

GD: What are your favorite features of the project?
DW: Throughout the garden, natural stone and water serve as unifying elements to the residence and garden. However, in lieu of using these elements in a literal means—such as scattered boulders and natural waterfalls—the design explores how such elements may take on a modern form while still respecting their environment. Stone functions as sculptural seating benches and tables, while atmospheric mist, single rivulets, cascades, and still pools portray water in its various states and forms. When one visits the garden, the authenticity to the mountain region still reigns.

GD: What was your biggest splurge?
DW: The inclusion of the reflecting pool within the promontory garden certainly proved ambitious. The concept—a sky mirror that captures the ever-changing Colorado sky—celebrates the dramatic views at the very edge of the skyline. Although the feature could have also been designed as a recreational pool, the clients simply did not desire such a feature. Instead, as art collectors, they use it as a canvas for a work by the late Italian sculptor, Bruno Romeda. The stillness of water actually introduces reflected light and pattern to the courtyard.

Above: “Each stone was individually specified with intentionally spaced core fractures, utilizing the extraction method to serve as sculpted details.”

GD: What advice do you have for someone else undertaking a similar project?
DW: In remote areas, the protection of the site’s natural conditions, especially its vegetation, is paramount. This is because many of the landscapes in the West take a prolonged period of time to grow back—some even a generation. More often than not, clients underestimate how much land the contractor will need to access certain areas and to build certain parts of the home, and thus how much will be disturbed. As such, we find ourselves working closely with the contractor well before construction begins to reach a reasonable limit of disturbance. It is critical to use tree protection fencing (and sometimes chain-link or even plywood walls) to contain the limits of the disturbance and protect the very reason one might have purchased the property.

Above: “A rivulet of water at the base of a narrow window cut within the stone wall, oriented to a distant peak, creates a welcoming gesture in the garden.”

GD: Where do you get your design inspiration?
DW: Throughout our work in the American West, we have evolved a specific design vocabulary that is related to a geography that resonates deeply within us. Our gardens are identifiable because we interact with the landscape, taking our contextual cues from the climate, physiographic features, textures, patterns, and raw materials of the landscape. Our gardens reflect our mantra of believing in the power of place. We believe that specific knowledge of a site, such as its settlement patterns, plant communities, and regional values, are the foundation of great design. Our gardens embody the expression of many carefully considered design principles surrounding order, structure, materiality, light, shadow, water, the integration of art, framed views, and defined space. While we believe that the inherent power of a designed landscape is as profound as any form of art, we also recognize that proposed interventions should appear effortless. The end result makes a significant contribution to establishing a unique design character—otherwise known as regionalism.

GD: What is your next project?
DW: From the restoration of a historic homestead tucked high in the California wine country, to a 100-acre equestrian ranch set near Telluride, to a contemporary garden in Montana’s private Yellowstone Club, it is very exciting to see what we have on the boards. Our favorite? Perhaps a modern Texas estate near Austin scheduled to be complete in just a couple of months! The setting—a landscape of majestic live oaks—serves as a backdrop for the design: a contemporary twist on the Hill Country prairie, landscape interventions that serve as a basis for a growing family, and a world-class modern sculpture collection.

More winning projects from the 2018 Considered Design Awards:

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