Surfacedesign, Inc. is a landscape architecture and urban design firm based in San Francisco, California. This award-winning practice focuses on creating dynamic parks, plazas, waterfronts, civic landscapes and private gardens. James A. Lord, Roderick Wyllie and Geoff di Girolamo, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of landscape architects, urban designers and architects, provide innovative design solutions for a wide range of projects.
Interactive and meaningful collaboration between project stakeholders, ranging from clients, designers, community groups and city agencies are essential components to the shifting tactics required to program dynamic public sites. Surfacedesign’s outreach and visioning work focuses on building partnerships and innovative strategies for placemaking.
Integral to the ideology of the practice, Surfacedesign focuses on cultivating a sense of connection to the built and natural world, pushing people to engage with the landscape in new ways. Our approach emphasizes and celebrates the unique context and imaginative potential of each project. The studio’s design process is rooted in asking novel questions and listening to a site and its users – a process that has led to engaging and inspiring landscapes that are rugged, contemporary and crafted.
Anaha —which translates into Reflection of Light in Hawaiian—was designed to capture and reflect the light of the Pacific Ocean as well as the dramatic and ever-changing sky in Honolulu. Set within the Ward Village, this multi-family residential project celebrates the beauty of the shoreline, informed by native Hawaiian plants and traditions—ultimately paying homage to the natural beauty and history of Honolulu.
Anaha is oriented with its long axis perpendicular to the shoreline to preserve sight lines from Mauka (toward the mountains) to Makai (seaward). At the ground floor, subtle finish differences from bush-hammered and honed Cremino stone paving reveal a wave pattern that mimics coral, which draws you into the entrance court. This paving is mirrored and repeated across the multiple levels of open space, connecting the site vertically and materially.
Inspired by the tides and wave patterns of the beaches of Honolulu, the pool deck features undulating terraces that mimic coral growth patterns. At the end of the deck a transparent-bottom lap pool extends out towards the Ocean, revealing the bustling city life that passes below—a conversation piece that pulls people to the site and acts as a landmark for the neighborhood.
More than anything, Anaha is meant to celebrate the plants and culture of Hawaii. On the groundbreaking, as the site was blessed and named: “My ancestors lived on this land,” proudly said Moani Kaleikini.
Photo Credit: Marion Brenner
The Auckland International Airport has a dramatic geographical context, sited on an isthmus of the northern island of New Zealand. The east coast of New Zealand receives the first light of day in terms of global time. 70% of visitors to New Zealand arrive through the portal of the Auckland Airport. The Auckland Airport landscape is a welcome to visitors, a recognition of the site’s location on the globe, and a celebration of how man has engaged with the uniquely dramatic New Zealand landscape.
The region is historically poignant— as it is the site where the Maori first arrived in waka canoes from Polynesia— transforming the landscape through the cultivation of tropical plants in stone-lined excavations. These stonesfields carved into the landscape and created sheltered, sun-warmed microclimates for cultivating the imported tropical plantings, and became a sacred typology.
The Auckland International Airport Landscape is an expression of the engagement of man and land, and celebrates the multiple histories of New Zealand’s vernacular landscape. Stone mounds reference Maori stonesfields, and rise from the ground, hugging the visitor. The earthforms address on-site soils remediation and stormwater treatment, part of a larger ecological mission of the airport. Smaller, stone ‘blades’ reference the motion of a jet engine, eemphasizing the excitement of arrival, travel and the cinematic choreography of modern transportation.
Photo Credit: Blake Marvin
Set within one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in California, the St Helena residence floats above the surrounding vines, extending the landscape into the house and pulling life out into the garden. An olive-tree lined gravel driveway frames the entrance to the St Helena property, and culminates in the oak-lined property edge, where an existing heritage oak anchors the property. This oak orients the site, marking the central axis of the house, pool and—through the vineyard— the barn. Ancient olive trees, salvaged from a no longer viable orchard are integrated into the barn landscape, tying into the reclaimed wood of the barn siding and framing the entrances to the building. Exuberant perennial plantings frame the oak and provide seasonal interest—Nepeta flowers and Little Bunny grasses bloom in early spring followed by a flurry of summer color from Agastache, Perovskia, Lavender and Gaura.
Framing the teak porch at the entrance to the house, the Moon Garden is comprised of a series of white blooms that reflect the light of the moon and create a serene respite during the day. White Digitalis spires weave through Gardenias and Ranunculus, with light groupings of White lavender and Geyser White Gaura providing a backdrop to seasonal blooms like Anenomes and Roses.
Moving through the house, windows frame the foreground of perennial plantings and pull the eye out to the greater vineyard and the hills beyond.
Photo Credit: Marion Brenner
Located on the vegetative gradient between the oak savannah of the Santa Cara Valley and the redwood forests of the of the Santa Cruz mountains, the Woodside residence seamlessly nestles into its three-acre site. From its conception, the design aimed to blend into its natural surroundings and borrow the vistas of the adjacent mountains. Thus, the architecture developed as a low volume extending towards the distant summits, articulated as a main house along a main axis and a series of pavilions that nestle into the landscape.
Because of its naturally rolling topography, one of the main challenges of the project was tying in the house and accessory buildings site’s natural terrain. By way of a meticulous understanding of the site’s grades and topography, a series of carefully designed stairs, terraces, and walls are integrated to create the necessary canvas for the various requirements of the outdoor program to develop.
The property is screened from the adjacent streets and horse trails by a California native palette of woodland trees and shrubs that give way at the main gate to a modern Mediterranean planting palette, luring the residents and visitors into the front yard. Beyond the architecture, a meadow sits atop sculpted topography that exaggerates the pre-existing characteristics of the site while seamlessly blending into the rolling hills of the surrounding area.
Photo Credit: Marion Brenner