Great heights

A Mod­ernist gar­den look­ing over San Fran­cisco Bay is a study in sim­ple block plant­ing and bold ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign by An­drea Cochran

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS TIM RICHARD­SON

Perched on the side of a cliff over­look­ing San Fran­cisco Bay, de­signer An­drea Cochran has cre­ated a gar­den space of strik­ing dy­namism

Afine view across the city and its bay is not such an un­usual as­set when it comes to high-end houses in hilly San Fran­cisco, but what this prop­erty of­fers is in a league of its own. For any­one who is prone to ver­tigo (like me), the steps up the side of the house, com­plete with pro­trud­ing Corten steel and glass over­looks, ap­pear daunt­ing in­deed. Can­tilevered over the cliff edge, each over­look has a grid­ded base that ends with a glass panel, so the in­trepid visi­tor has a view down the al­most-ver­ti­cal cliff face. Huge eu­ca­lyp­tus trees grow in abun­dance on the cliffs and then the eye trav­els on to the city, the docks, the down­town sky­scrapers and, beyond, the bay it­self, criss-crossed by fer­ries and bridges, with the for­mer prison is­land of Al­ca­traz loom­ing in the dis­tance.

“Kids ab­so­lutely love the over­looks,” says de­signer An­drea Cochran, so of course it is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for us to skip up the steps and ‘walk the plank’ un­til we are

essen­tially hov­er­ing in mid-air above the abyss. Per­haps now would be a good time for An­drea to in­tro­duce me to the rest of the gar­den.

Cars have to climb a short but ex­tremely steep drive­way be­fore com­ing to rest on the brick plat­form of the park­ing fore­court. The first thing you see on ar­rival is the garage, since the front door is sev­eral storeys above. “I wanted the ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting to the front door to be an in­ter­est­ing one,” An­drea ex­plains – hence the dra­matic over­looks that dom­i­nate the gar­den’s open­ing act.

A whim­si­cal sculp­ture of a man gaz­ing sky­wards – Look­ing Up by Jim Ren­nert – greets you at the foot of the steps, which only in­creases your sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion, while the smooth Corten steel planes of the over­looks cre­ate a sculp­tural tableau rem­i­nis­cent of the mon­u­men­tal works of the Amer­i­can sculp­tor Richard Serra.

The over­looks also cre­ate framed views of the city beyond as you as­cend the steps, which are f lanked to one side by the acid green of a large block plant­ing of Lo­man­dra

longi­fo­lia ‘Breeze’ at the foot of the steps, which is later re­placed by blocks of the grass-like Ophio­pogon higher up. The colour tones of these dif­fer­ent fo­liage plants play off the earth­ier colours of the steel, the brick ter­race and the cedar shin­gles of the house – which has been re-con­ceived in ‘ home­lier’ style by ar­chi­tect Olle Lund­berg.

The steps lead up to a sub­stan­tial brick ter­race that spans the bay-front of the house with seats in the walls seem­ingly moulded from soft brick. This is not a ma­te­rial one read­ily as­so­ciates with An­drea’s work – she tends to favour the more muted colours of nat­u­ral stone and cast con­crete in her sleek Mod­ernist works. But An­drea ex­plains that the ter­race was for­merly a drive­way that snaked along the front of the house, and it made sense to keep it. Atop the front wall there are sim­ple plant­ings of rose­mary, laven­der, plumbago, trum­pet vine ( Camp­sis rad­i­cans) and ivy – but it’s all about the view.

“I wanted to cre­ate a feel­ing of be­ing part of all this,” says An­drea, ges­tur­ing across the wide ex­panse of the bay below us, criss-crossed by fer­ries and off­set by bridges that are



Block plant­ing can be use­ful in con­tem­po­rary set­tings. On this site plant­ing in the park­ing fore­court and up the steps is re­alised in blocks of green-leaved peren­nial plants: first, a line of bam­boo, then Lo­man­dra longi­fo­lia ‘Breeze’ at the foot of the steps then Ophio­pogon fur­ther up – cre­ate pleas­ing con­trasts with the var­ie­gated woody hues of the cedar shin­gles on the build­ing. The plant­ings play an ar­chi­tec­tural role, in that the size and shape of the blocks re­spond to the vol­umes of the house’s façade. Block plant­ing is also use­ful in ar­eas vis­i­tors pass through quickly and where a com­plex plant­ing scheme would com­pete with an­other dis­trac­tion, in this case, a stu­pen­dous view.

lit up at night. “I’ve been to par­ties here and peo­ple like to hang out in this space. It’s like be­ing in a bird’s nest. In fact, the birds f ly at eye level.” As if on cue, a f lock of noisy para­keets gam­bols by. The brick gives this ter­race a warm, so­cial feel­ing (un­derf loor heat­ing helps), while the grey basalt used in other ar­eas im­parts a quiet, ‘mod­ern’ f lavour.

An­other level up and vis­i­tors fi­nally ar­rive at the front door. Here An­drea has cre­ated a stylised ‘ lawn’ of Pen­nise­tum sphace­la­tum in a rec­tan­gu­lar bed be­cause the client wanted to be able to see green all year round from her study win­dow. Above is the top ter­race, an el­e­gant pri­vate seat­ing area along­side the kitchen com­mand­ing more spec­tac­u­lar views.

The gar­den ar­eas at the front of the house are spec­tac­u­lar but they are also highly ex­posed. So to al­low for qui­eter mo­ments, An­drea has cre­ated a med­i­ta­tive gar­den space be­hind the house in a most un­pro­pi­tious set­ting, hemmed in by the sheer ver­ti­cal wall of the neigh­bour­ing build­ing that was once a bank. This en­closed space has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent feel, re­alised in sub­tle tones of grey, green and rust-brown. At one end is a seat­ing


area de­fined by Corten steel walls with a large con­crete fire pit. The gar­den is shaded by maple trees and sur­rounded by a bosky plant­ing made up of sar­co­cocca, helle­bores, heucheras, dog­woods – planted for their win­ter colour – and the white Ja­panese snow­ball, Vibur­num pli­ca­tum f. to­men­to­sum.

There is in­trigu­ing tex­tu­ral va­ri­ety be­tween the basalt pavers, grey gravel and three large cast-con­crete ‘peb­bles’ strewn across the space. A panel of Corten steel, framed by clumps of Hy­drangea quer­ci­fo­lia, cre­ates a sculp­tural mo­ment at the other end of the gar­den space, where pink camel­lias from next-door’s gar­den tum­ble over the wall in sea­son, a pleas­ingly ran­dom in­ter­loper which An­drea also en­joys.

USE­FUL INFORMATION Find out more about An­drea’s work at

Top Dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als cre­ate pleas­ing con­trasts at this cliff-top site: cast con­crete walls, black basalt pavers and the brick fore­court lead up to the cedarsh­in­gled house, with An­drea Cochran’s ver­tigo-in­duc­ing Corten steel over­looks poised at the edge of the abyss.

Above The geo­met­ric planes of the gar­den look good from many an­gles, in­clud­ing the near-ver­ti­cal view from the top of the house.


Above A gen­er­ous brick ter­race spans the bay-front of the house. Here it’s all about the view and about feel­ing part of the sur­round­ings. The wide ter­race looks out over the sprawl­ing Bay Area of San Fran­cisco and has in­cred­i­ble views out over the Oak­land Bay Bridge. Plant­ing has been kept sim­ple with blocks of rose­mary, laven­der, plumbago, trum­pet vine and ivy adorn­ing the front wall.

Above Com­plex tex­tu­ral in­ter­play is al­ways a key­note in An­drea Cochran’s work, and here the dif­fer­ent tones of gravel, basalt pavers, cedar shin­gles, Corten steel, fire, maple fo­liage, Liri­ope mus­cari (at left) and cast-con­crete seat ‘peb­bles’ all play a role.

1. A line of tem­ple bam­boo, Semi­arun­d­i­naria fas­tu­osa var. viridis flanks the park­ing fore­court.

3. Carex tu­muli­cola, a shade-lov­ing na­tive sedge which tum­bles out of planters

2. Block-planted Ses­le­ria ‘Green­lee’, a cul­ti­var de­vel­oped by the Cal­i­for­nian nat­u­ral-gar­den ex­pert John Green­lee.

4. Steps lead down from the med­i­ta­tive rear gar­den, with block plant­ings of Liri­ope mus­cari, one of An­drea’s ‘most trusted’ plants in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. Tough plants such as these can be thugs in com­pany, so it is a good idea to cor­ral them.

Above An­drea found that the site’s scenic drama called for sim­plic­ity, es­pe­cially at the foot of the steps where a sin­gle block of Lo­man­dra longi­fo­lia ‘Breeze’ con­trasts with the Corten steel. The sculp­ture Look­ing Up by Jim Ren­nert stands sen­tinel by the steps, though your eye is drawn to look out to Yerba Buena Is­land and the Oak­land Bay Bridge.

Top The top kitchen ter­race af­fords ex­pan­sive views across San Fran­cisco Bay. The over­looks can be seen pro­trud­ing into space below.

Above The med­i­ta­tive gar­den at the rear of the house has a very dif­fer­ent feel to the other ar­eas. Maples shade the rear gar­den space, de­fined by a Corten steel wall fea­ture and a dra­matic fire pit.

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