Posted tagged ‘California gardens’

CityGuides II – SF Architecture and Private ‘Public’ Spaces

July 25, 2015

If you read my last post, you know I’m a fan of San Francisco City Guides, a volunteer-run series of wonderful walking tours within the city. When I last visited, in June, I wanted to take their Tales of the Castro tour, but it had been cancelled for Pride Weekend (probably a wise decision given the other events scheduled for the area that weekend).

Instead, I opted for a walk called ‘South of Market Architecture Stroll,’ which promised to focus on architecture and history in and around the Financial District. To my delight, it not only delivered on that promise but also included a look at a number of privately owned ‘public spaces’ (or POPOS, as they’re called in San Francisco).

More about those in a moment. First, however, a look at the Bell Building’s amazing interior space – primarily the lobby, but  quite a show. Located at 140 Montgomery Street, the Bell Building was built in 1925. Parts of its exterior walls on one side of the building still have a bell motif with ‘telephone book’ pages above them.

Bell Building, San Francisco

One side of the Bell Building, at 140 Montgomery Street. Note the ‘telephone pages’ motif at the top, with repeating “bell” symbols at the bottom.

Inside the lobby, the Art Deco motifs are stunning.

At one point, there was discussion of turning the building into condos, which didn’t happen. Today, the primary tenant is Yelp (not all their employees, just some).

Much of the rest of our tour (although not all) involved seeing POPOS, or ‘privately owned public open spaces.‘ Since 1985, San Francisco has required developers constructing projects in defined areas of the city to provide publicly accessible spaces in the form of terraces, parks, atriums, and other spaces for use by the public. These spaces may be inside a building, on top of it, or completely outdoors. Buildings with such spaces are required to post signs (which must be a specified size or larger; apparently initially some building owners used miniscule signage to discourage people from learning about their POPOS!). Like this.

A 'Public Open Space' notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

A ‘Public Open Space’ notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

Some of the POPOS have food and/or restrooms available (although you may have to look a bit for the latter). Some have quiet spaces away from the bustle of the street, in case you are between appointments or want a place to hang out other than a restaurant or coffee shop.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

The outdoor spaces are equally impressive, and often include art funded through the city’s “1% Art Program” which requires that large projects in  Downtown and nearby neighborhoods provide public art that equals at least 1% of the total construction cost.

There are so many POPOS that an entire CityGuides walk is devoted to them. You can also find a map online and lots of reviews by city natives of their favorites – just Google “POPOS.” I  hope to see more when I next return to the City By the Bay.

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Garden Shoots will be on vacation for the month of August. See you in September!

An ‘Endemic Creation’ in El Cerrito

March 8, 2013

I enjoy visiting gardens that unsettle my designer’s sensibilities. One of my sons once told me that he thinks of me as a photographer who likes taking images of “beautiful things” (rather than edgy street scenes, etc.) and I guess that’s what my mindset is when I design – somewhat traditional gardens with as much beauty in the design concept as I can pull together. So when we visited a garden on the APLD Conference Tour described in our materials as an “East Bay hillside in a modern vein,” I was delighted that our schedule let us spend some time there so I could take it all in.

Created by Brian Swope, who describes himself as a ‘contrarian designer,’ the back yard garden welcomed us first.

APLD, Brian Swope, El Cerrito garden

The view from this part of the garden includes a vantage point that takes in the neighbors’ house – which belongs to the garden owners’ parents.

Where to start? The sloping site has been brilliantly handled; the gravel “trail” that is visible just beyond the  perforated steel obelisk ( which is lit at night) climbs a hill that is modeled after trails in Marin County, complete with switchbacks.

APLD, Brian Swope, sculpture in the garden, Bay Area gardens

‘Siskyou Blue’ fescue grasses soften the planting area at the foot of the perforated steel obelisk.

The plantings in the garden are predominantly native species, including small buckeye saplings that cast shadows at night against panels set above a retaining wall behind the dining patio.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area Gardens

Buckeye saplings edge the patio area at the top of the steps.

Poured concrete walls, as well as the edging for the planting beds shown above, have been textured with Trex – something that I never would have thought of doing in a million years.

Trex, APLD, Brian Swope, Bay Area gardens

Bed edging, created from concrete forms textured with Trex.

Closer to the house, in a shady site, planting combinations were softer.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area gardens

I loved this combination of ferns, ginger, clover and other shade plants at the edge of the back of the house.

The front yard, installed in a second phase of work, is defined by a previously existing bamboo hedge. Swope chose other large forms – substantial rocks, Corten-steel edging, and gravel – to respond to the bamboo as counterpoints. (For a look at some other Corten steel projects for the garden, click here.)
El Cerrito Garden-8

A variety of shapes and textures, including 'Siskiyou Blue' fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

A variety of shapes and textures, including ‘Siskiyou Blue’ fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

In a harsh and challenging setting (with a fabulous view of the Bay), Swope and his client have created an inviting, modernist landscape. We felt privileged to visit it – and I knew my designer’s horizons had expanded, more than a little.

Art in the Garden, Bay Area-Style

February 22, 2013

One of the most enjoyable stops on the September 2012 “garden tour” APLD conference was a Bay area garden owned by Gail Giffen and Chris Pisarro in Lafayette, CA. Our tour materials gave this garden the title “Playing for Art’s Sake,” and that felt pretty accurate. The sculpture selections are eclectic and whimsical – from tiny metal marching “ants” at the foot of a large tree draped in a Marcia Donahoe “necklace” of carved wooden spheres, to a “motorcycle creature” hiding in the grasses on the outskirts of the back yard. The garden was designed by Michael Thilgen at Four Dimensions Landscape Company. Pisarro and Giffen, who sits on the Board of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, were incredibly gracious hosts – mimosas and snacks were on hand! I’ll let my photos tell the rest of the story.

Vegetable Gardening with a Master

February 8, 2013

Rosalind Creasy is known nationally and internationally for her inspired landscape designs that use herbs and vegetables ornamentally. So it was a special treat to be given a private tour of her home garden during the APLD conference in the Bay Area last fall. Creasy explained how finding substitutes for more traditional plants (e.g., rosemary shrubs for boxwoods or other low evergreen hedging material) enabled her to win over her neighbors – and at the same time the design world – in her early years working in the garden. Now she lives in a residential neighborhood in the Bay Area with chicken coops in the front yard and edible plants framed within  more traditional settings – patios and arbors, raised planting beds and “parterres” of rosemary.

In our mid-Atlantic region, there is a renewed interest in raising vegetables in our gardens, so having the opportunity to see Creasy’s home garden was an inspiration. (OK, so rosemary shrubs would be a bit of a stretch here. But her encouragement to the designers on our tour to search out heirloom vegetables and think outside the box was wonderful). For more information about Creasy’s books, a link to her blog, and lots of useful advice about vegetable gardening, check out her website.

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