“It’s the culmination of a patron investing in a designer or landscape architect in their own vision of where they want to take this.”
–2017 Awards Jury
The landscape design for the Birmingham Residence sculpts space into a dynamic context for the client’s home and art collection. Situated in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, the residence embodies the client’s adventurous taste and celebrates the region’s historical ties to the steel industry. From the beginning, the landscape architect drew inspiration from contemporary art, reinterpreting the traditional elements of the private garden and creating spaces that complement and soften the visual language of the architecture. The shared belief that a unique personal vision can be embodied in the landscape and that residential landscape design need not be bound by conventional materials and practices guided the design team and client, motivating them to stretch the creative and technical design of the project.
▲场地平面, site plan Photo Credit: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
设计目标和挑战 Design Goals ＋ Challenges
基础, the plinth
规模＋运动, scale ＋ movement
景观中的艺术, art in the Landscape
艺术敏感性是这个项目完整性的基础。从设计之初，团队就与业主达成了共识，希望表达以工业设计为核心的设计理念。对于业主和设计团队，原始的 Anselm Kiefer 种植材料和Chris Burden的雕塑均相当符合他们的最初设想。景观设计师在这个项目中之所以扮演着非常重要角色，是因为他们要在设计过程中考虑到对雕塑的安排，导致设计过程演变成了和业主一起的艺术创作的过程。而前所未有的挑战是，景观师要打破传统的景观设计原则，要以雕塑元素代替植物和围栏解决设计中的问题。并且与以往不同的是，业主和景观师都在试图提升庭院中艺术展廊的在感性层面上的意义，以更深层次更持久的感染力和观者产生共鸣。
The landscape architects felt the home needed a base, or plinth, on which to sit in order to ground the home in the surrounding context. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
Corten-steel has a historical tie to the project’s location outside Detroit, the center of the steel industry in America. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
Art indicates points of arrival and reinforce a sequence of movement through the space. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
Swaths of native Little Bluestem grasses produce a ragged and rough juxtaposition to the clean lines off Corten and concrete. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
Looking from the front door entry back to the landscape, which needed to soften the building without overshadowing it. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
The river birch allée and bluestem grasses below exaggerate the ephemeral qualities of shadow and light. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
The elevated courtyard provides a vertical separation between pedestrian and vehicular zones. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
The landscape design stays true to modernist principles by extending outdoor living space, effectively creating an outdoor art gallery. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
The design breaks from traditional garden design, creating sculptural elements in moments that would otherwise require plant or fencing material. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
The team believed that the elements of the garden should have a deep emotional impact. Photo credit: Marion Brenner
A pioneering fashion adventurer and the owner of two well-known designer boutiques in Birmingham and New York City, the client wished to create a singular aesthetic at her suburban Michigan home. Doing so meant that the landscape design would need to complement the architecture while simultaneously weaving it into the suburban context. Having grown up in the industrial culture of Michigan, and with a husband in the construction materials business, the client’s personal connection to materiality was central to the project. Throughout the design process, the architect and landscape architect were unified by this emphasis on craft and commitment to a modern and highly curated space.
The landscape architecture team arrived to the project after the shell of the residence had been constructed. Working within the spatial definition and language of the existing building envelope, the landscape architect saw the surrounding landscape as an opportunity to create a context for the large, concrete building while also defining clearer usage and movement through the outdoor spaces. The team also felt very strongly that the landscape should, in line with the architecture, stay true to modernist principles by extending the living space outdoors, effectively creating an outdoor gallery softened by plantings.
Upon arrival, the landscape architects found the envelope of the building perched atop a hillside that sloped down to the street. They felt strongly that the building needed a base, or plinth, on which to sit, in order to ground the home in the surrounding context. The sculptural quality of the resulting design—the corten steel that forms a composed frame for the outdoor living spaces around the house—creates a gracious transition between home and surrounding context. The plinth reinforces, yet softens, the minimal, clean lines of the building, creating a unified visual language from the ground up.
Beyond visually anchoring the building to the site, the elevated ground plane expands the usable space and creates a transition zone, or scrim, that buffers between the street and the entrance to the site. The landscape design carefully considers the scale and proportion of these outdoor spaces to create a more intermediate, human-scale zone in relationship to the monumental architecture. Numerous scale and siting studies were necessary to create spaces that would soften the building without overshadowing or being eclipsed by it. The highly-curated spaces provide areas for art, seating, planting, and open space, as well as a vertical separation between pedestrian and vehicular spaces.
Choreographed paths for the residents and guests elevate the familiar and allow the landscape to be experienced in different ways. Visitors to the property park along the driveway and are guided clearly toward the grid of river birch along the southern face of the house, where a set of stairs draws them up around the eastern face of the house. They walk the path along a meadow of Little Blue Stem grasses, anchored at one end by a corten steel plinth and sculpture. Along the way, the front door is tucked into a narrow, dramatic slit in the building façade.
The residents come home along a different path. Driving past the visitor’s entrance, they turn into a driveway and park in the detached garage; what makes this moment unique is the installation of beams that protrude viscerally from the earth. A collection of super-sized pick-up sticks, this metal sculpture speaks to the client’s core identity while simultaneously screening the garage. The sculpture courtyard functions as their main entry and is one of the most trafficked areas. Dotted with sculpture and protected by a ceiling of delicate honey locust trees, the sculpture garden and courtyard functions both as a gallery-like space and extension of the home.
As the landscape architects imposed a spatial order, they also enhanced the relationship of the landscape to the building by introducing a minimalist, yet highly textured, pallete of plants and materials that together highlight the passing of seasons. Corten steel retaining walls echo the area’s connection to the steel industry. Swaths of native Little Bluestem grasses, ragged and rough, juxtapose sharply with the clean lines of concrete and corten. Lush hedges create architectural definition while softening the heavily pedestrian zones around the house. An allée of river birch trees pattern the building’s façade in shadow, creating dynamic movement on an otherwise blank surface. While the plantings near the building are curated with precision, the meadow spaces beyond are more natural and less articulated.
An artistic sensibility was fundamental to the integrity of the project. From the beginning, the team shared images of contemporary art to communicate the visceral, industrial qualities the client wished to see expressed in the design; for both the client and the design team, the raw paintings and sculptures of Anselm Kiefer and the sculptures of Chris Burden resonated deeply. While a significant portion of the design process for the landscape architect required creating the context for and siting of sculpture, the process eventually evolved into working with the client to create the art pieces themselves. This new task challenged the landscape architect to break out of the confines of traditional garden design, creating sculptural elements to tackle design problems that would have traditionally been solved with plant and fencing material. Instead, both the client and the landscape architect sought to evoke the powerful, emotional qualities of an art gallery in the garden—moving beyond the simple sculpture garden to a space with deeper, more lasting resonance.
Design: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
Client: Linda Dresner