Blasen Architecture Win Professional Landscape Award

May 14, 2009

Blasen Landscape Architecture have won an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for their work on a residence in California’s Napa Valley. The jury for the 2009 Professional Awards considered nearly 600 entries from around the world and selected 49 projects for recognition.

Full description after the photos….

Photos by Marion Brenner Photography

Project Description

The Property is 30 acres on an intermediary ridge on the Diamond Mountains above Napa Valley. We worked with the architects Eliot Lee and Eun Sun Chun from the beginning of the project. They knew it was important to collaborate with a landscape architect during the initial process of designing and placing the house on the site. It was important to integrate the modern rammed earth structures with the natural setting. Our goal was to create the least amount of disturbance possible around the construction of each structure, to blend the existing grades around the architecture, and to replant the disturbed areas with indigenous and native plants. Special care was taken to collect native seeds from the site prior to construction.

The project started in 2002 and was completed in 2005. It was one of the first projects to pass the Napa Valley View Shed Ordinance. Our analysis of the site showed that it was solid limestone rock outcrop with very little soil. The history of the land was that it had been clear-cut for lumber to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. A pine forest came back but was not the indigenous species and was old, infested with bark beetle, and dying. Because this was a big fire hazard, we chose to remove the dying trees and replace them with Native Oak trees that were originally found in this oak woodland savanna. There were many large native manzanitas (Arctostaphylos sp.) that we protected during the construction process. The land adjacent to the property is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards.

Upon entering the property, a windy, uphill, gravel driveway leads to an outdoor parking area with one rammed earth wall and a simple crushed stone path flanked by manzanitas and California lilacs. At this point no sign of the house is in view. The Lee’s wanted a weekend house that would connect them back to nature. The architecture consists of four small structures that total 2,500 square feet of indoor space: a living room with a kitchen and dining area, a master bedroom and bath, a guesthouse with two bedrooms, and a bath house that consists of a sauna, a spa and a bathroom. All buildings are connected by crushed stone paths made of stone from the site, no off haul was needed.

The land that immediately surrounds the buildings and pool was planted with a naturalistic garden that was carefully designed not to look designed at all. An elevated lap pool angles out away from the house making a connection to the master bedroom structure. A network of narrow paths connects all buildings. No stone was brought in for the project, nor was any hauled off the property. All the steps were carved from stones made available from the excavation for the foundation. Even the rammed earth structures contain portions of the stone from the site.

Creating defensible spaces from wildfires was another important consideration to the design. California is one of the most combustible natural fire environments on earth. Our first task was to clear all dead and dry brush as well as the old dying pines surrounding the house that had been planted in the 30’s. After meeting with the local fire marshal from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection we designed a mock-up to explain how the planting scheme would avoid the fire ladder effect while retaining the large amount of existing manzanitas. The creation of island plantings spaced with grasses that were cut back during fire season allowed for a more stable landscape . To further this goal, an area of lawn adjacent to the house acted as an additional buffer to fire. The small lawn is used by the client for Qigong.

This project was a wonderful opportunity to create a garden that does not look like it was designed. Fusing the elements of a subtle touch with a marked design perspective was an exercise in minimalism.

Visit the website of Blasen Landscape Architecture – here.