The Belmont Parkway Residential Landscape Project consists of three zones that work with and highlight the site’s topography, geology, and wooded nature while concurrently creating a diversity of spaces for the family to enjoy. In addition, Shoal Creek runs though the edge of the backyard, one of two main creeks that travel through North Austin on their way to the Colorado River. Given the proximity to such an important waterway, water became central to the project resulting in stormwater, overflow well water, and AC condensate being collected and celebrated. All Heritage-sized trees were protected and treated with extra care, and a high level of craft was used throughout to create modern spaces full of well-tended gardens and particular stonework, as well as wilder spaces composed of boulder walls and sweeps of native plantings.
Studio Balcones designed the landscape for this quiet modern home designed by Tim Cuppett Architects. The forested and sloped site full of native understory trees and shrubs, is anchored by mature majestic Live Oaks, Red Oaks, and Cedar Elms. The house, perched on the hillside overlooking Shoal Creek, cleverly navigates the drop in grade with a bridge connecting the upper house halves and a stairway dipping underneath to the landscape below. The landscape design is composed of three main zones: a formally composed street level entrance courtyard, an intimate circular pool and walled garden adjacent the house, and a wilder expansive landscape connecting the house to the creek.
The entrance courtyard greets the visitor with lush perennial gardens full of seasonal perennials, roses, native grasses, and blue shrub palms. The cool color palette was intentionally chosen to work with the grey tones of the home’s Douglas Fir siding and cream limestone walls. Low gabion walls artfully stacked with limestone from the site and a line of Olive Trees announce entrance into the larger paved courtyard. The courtyard and driveway, paved with permeable concrete pavers, doubles as a basketball court with courtside gabion benches topped with sheets of cut limestone. The main boardwalk entrance to the house floats over the minimal front garden of native grasses and fragrant almond verbenas. The loose and airy almond verbena shrubs provide a burst of sweet smells almost year-round each time one passes and the expanse of blowing grasses make the house appear to almost float.
While most visitors enter the house from the central boardwalk entrance, one can also travel down a series of terraced garden beds and custom limestone steps that dip under the living room bridge, leading to a small concrete porch. This porch sits above grade with open views to the expansive backyard below. A runnel runs alongside the steps carrying collected rainwater, overflow well water, and AC condensate, and generates the gentle sound of babbling water heard as one travels down the steps. The collected water then disappears into a grate and reappears though a pipe under the porch, where the water then flows out into an exposed rock creek bed that leads to Shoal Creek.
The next zone includes the intimate garden and pool area that sits to the west of the house behind a horizontal board fence that mimics the house siding. The small lawn area, outdoor shower, perennial garden, and half-moon pool terrace sit at roughly the same grade as the entrance courtyard. The custom concrete circular pool and attached limestone wall help navigate the roughly 4-foot drop in grade, as the pool and wall simultaneously retain the grade and become the unobtrusive, yet code complaint, pool enclosure. With no need for fencing below, once can better enjoy the views of the wooded hillside from the dipping pool. Elegant steps, made of steel plate and concrete pavers, are carved out of the pool terrace and lead down to a small gravel terrace. Here one can enjoy the firepit under the amazing tree canopy on cool nights. Extra care was required to ensure no major tree roots were harmed while siting and constructing the wall and pool.
The last zone, the wilder landscape located to the east of and behind the house, includes preserved portions of existing stacked stone walls, new boulder retaining walls and steps, and generous sweeps of native plantings. Here the design was more of an editing exercise that included removing non-natives plants and deciding which portions of existing walls to keep. In addition, blooming understory trees were added for seasonal color as well as a small lawn of sorts of native sedges requiring very minimal maintenance. These plantings, while more relaxed, were no less intentional with Sumac that turns bright orange in fall, Redbuds with their deep spring pinks, and bright green Sea Oats that blow in the breeze. At the creek’s edge, a series of large limestone boulders were artfully placed to encourage visitors to simply sit and watch the creek.
The truly lovely Belmont Parkway Landscape Project provides numerous spaces for the family to gather and swim, play basketball, or simply bird watch amongst the trees. The design also embraces seasonal change with spring, summer, and fall-blooming plants that includes a host of pollinator species attracting bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. As the landscape matures, this in town refuge has not only become a lovely place for humans to enjoy, but also has provided greatly needed habitat for an assortment of urban wildlife.
Architecture offices involved: Tim Cuppett
Project location: Austin, Texas
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2018