Terremoto creates well built, site-specific landscapes that respond to client needs while simultaneously challenging historical and contemporary landscape construction methods, materials, and formal conventions. Our design approach is post-internet, critically-regionalist, and respectfully inflammatory.
We reject the idea of any kind of signature firm style, instead allowing site, historical and cultural context to guide our design decisions. We design through a lens that incorporates influences and inspiration as varied as the as the Japanese art and landscape movement Mono-ha, the work of Gilles Clément, the natural ecology of trail and park systems, archaeological ruins, the philosophy of modest landscapes that Julie Bargmann espouses, and Noguchi’s meticulous stonework craft.
Our work attempts to address the dearth of landscape architectural work in the United States – especially at the residential level – that operates at a conceptual and philosophical level. We create work that allows us to explore ideas and that is both intellectually and formally different from what we are seeing. We view gardens and local landscapes as micro-expressions of our wider culture.
Guided by these beliefs, we aim to create environments that are aesthetically, ecologically, and metaphysically provocative + productive – whether we are crafting both intimate and grander residential gardens and landscapes, unexpected public spaces, and playgrounds and community gardens.
Our landscape approach, in many cases, strives to do as little as possible. We embrace illegibility and prioritize ecology over a design that’s easy to read, letting existing site conditions guide our work and veering toward native plants wherever possible. In this way we are crafting environments that are habit and interspecies rather than human supremacist. And we view it as our utmost role to be responsible stewards of a changing climate (a concern that is forever top of mind as California residents and landscape practitioners). In the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where we have completed over 30 residential gardens within a two mile radius, we’ve been able to re-establish a patchwork ecology.
As a practice, we are explicitly a team that eschews both hierarchy and ego. In addition to being designers, we are also a team of makers, sculptors, musicians, writers and artists and that sensibility translates back into our landscape ethos.
We are process driven and low fi, embracing the analog, hand sketching and using watercolors, being on-site, working with our hands, letting conversations guide our design process. And bringing in technology and digital tools as a support. Materiality is integral to our work – embracing locally available and modest materials wherever possible, whether it’s repurposing reclaimed wood found on-site or excavating the remains of the demolished Los Angles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to salvage boulders as part of Terremoto pet project meditation garden.
An overarching recognition of labor in the landscapes we design permeates our practice. From planting a flag in the ground in our industry to start to move toward better labor acknowledgement and practices for the mega-talented crews that build and maintain our practice to programs like Test Plot and the Land and Labor studio we co-teach at the University of Southern California that seek to build community engagement in the maintenance and care of our public landscapes.
Test Plot is an ongoing, hands-on experiment and community-based ecological restoration in Elysian Park. Elysian Park is a beautiful, neglected, loved, ecologically-mostly-dead-public park situated just a ways away from Downtown Los Angeles, beside a freeway, around a baseball stadium. Over the past 100+ years, humans tinkered with it a lot, and as humans do, we basically monolithically destroyed its ecological functioning. These days it exists as a dismal dead Eucalyptus zombie forest with invasive grasses dominating the ground plane.
We started Test Plot in 2019 as a radical guerrilla ecological restoration project in the part to test out and reintroduce native plantings to the park and to engage the community in the maintenance and land care of these plots. The projects seeks to address the ongoing issue of disinvestment by city governments in the maintenance and ecological care of our public parks.
The project seeks to test both the plantings themselves and the wider systems of community engagement in their care.
Perched in an overgrown ivy-choked glen in Bel Air sits a neglected post-modern gem of a house- all curious angles, water damage and charm. The property has multiple levels, severe topography, drainage issues and we love it all.
We begin by editing- what works shall stay, what doesn’t goes away. Lots of demolition.
The fringes of the property are wild and we decide to push this further. The in-between zones of landscape inhabitance are the DMZ between these two polarities.
We decide to construct a gradient of wild-ness- from the comfort of the house out to the dangerous unknown of the edges.
In practical terms, we plant a forthcoming forest of specimen Olive trees, Coast Live Oaks and California Sycamores. We then add accent redbud trees. We install an understory of multiple thousands of (mostly) native grasses, native sages, lilacs and other mixed touches. Into this Southern California palette we also punch in a strong rectangular column of boxwood the utopian hippy meadow confronted by this hedge.
Over the course of construction (almost a year) we work with an arborist to transform an existing, twisted gnarled Coast Live Oak into the project’s sculptural centerpiece. We arrange a power circle of boulders underneath, we channel Mono-Ha. We build a flush deck and boardwalk, we completely rebuild the pool and surrounding hardscape, we install a neither modern nor classic warm grey brick driveway. We lay down decomposed granite.
This project is located in Nicasio in Northern California – a pastoral area near Point Reyes known for its wine and cheese, with miles upon miles of sheep and cows grazing along rolling hills. The climate there has a phenomenological quality – the kind of place where you would see what looks like rain moving in reverse back up from the landscape into the clouds.
They brought us on to help them redesign and reimagine their half acre outdoor landscape. The existing site was rocky and barren with some thistle, reeds, wild tilia, yarrow and small remnants of native grasses growing across the property. But beyond the barren immediate landscape was a stunning view from the backyard onto a reservoir and surrounding hills.
The design challenge and opportunity for this project was to turn a moderate, rocky ‘nothingness’ of their existing backyard into an idyllic and curated garden-like natural setting. We sought to bring the features of the hills in the distance into the immediate site at a human scale. We made a figure-gram of the wider region to identify the patterns found in the topography to inform how we arranged the mound formations on the project site.
The overall idea for the planting strategy was to have a color wheel of bloom times – the client wanted things to be blooming throughout as much of the year as possible, making this landscape luscious and evergreen through the Spring, Summer and Fall.
The project now stitches together layers of curated mounds introduced across the site and a textural native garden meadow woven throughout, all of which seamlessly blends in with the wider Nicasio landscape.
What was once a barren site now is home to a dense and lush landscape full of movement and life – blades of tall grasses and wildflowers rustle and sway in the wind and glimmer in the sun and new buzzing pollinator create a hum.