1 Belvedere Avenue artfully weaves together a challenging 146’ of steep grade change, dramatic views, and complex circulation requirements. An innovative and restrained design vocabulary brings the site’s topography to life, both visually and functionally. Seeking to create a series of landscape experiences while descending through the garden, the landscape architects designed a sculptural landscape where dramatic site walls shape a nature-forward landscape of transitions—views, movement, views, movement. The project feels at once fresh and new, and entirely integrated with the site.

Context: Located on Belvedere Island, CA, and overlooking Richardson Bay with views towards Sausalito, 1 Belvedere Avenue sits on a hillside with 146’ of steep grade change.

The scope of the project included removal of the existing house and select trees, an intense approval process, careful siting of the new house and a site design addressing a challenging site and complex environmental considerations.

Design of Place: Capitalizing on dramatic site topography and iconic views towards the Golden Gate Bridge and utilizing an intentionally crafted minimalist design vocabulary, the design team created an iconic landscape that is functional and inspirational. It is environmental art; it is performative land art.

Dramatic site walls shape a landscape of transitions—views, movement, views, movement—responding to not only the dynamic landforms but also a nearby bay and the environmental considerations.

Entry Garden: Choreographing pedestrian and automobile movement down the 44’ of steep grade change from the street to the public level of the house and driven by a vision to connect the owner and visitors to the site in a beautiful and unique way, the design weaves together moments of expansive bay views with spaces of poetic respite.

Simple sculptural concrete walls framing the entry drive and a dramatic linear pedestrian staircase contrast with the textural foliage of water-conscious native and adapted plants. Thoughtfully integrated into the site, the walls and stairs do not feel like infrastructure carrying the weight of 44’ of grade changes.

Entry courtyards: Two walled courtyards flank the home’s entry. The North Courtyard, distinguished by a seamless relationship with the adjacent interior space, is anchored by a Japanese maple and a substantial bench made of salvaged wood salvaged from the site. Stone pavers extend across the courtyard, mimicking the stonework of the interior flooring. Concrete walls of the courtyard are a backdrop to an expansive view through the house towards the bay.

The South Courtyard built of the same materiality is a complementing design. Here, another bench and Japanese maple sit within a small carpet of gravel with serves as a location for the homeowner’s pet to relieve itself.

Relating to the architectural language to create a seamless transition between interior and exterior, both courtyards evoke calm in their poetic and linear forms.

Hillside Meadow and Grove: The hillside meadow and hillside grove are accessed via a continuation of the linear staircase that serves the house entry. Continuing the Entry Garden’s design language of pure geometric form, but utilizing a “quieter” palette, the meadow and grove are grounded with timber stairs, zigzagging gravel paths and a selection of California-native plants. The landscape walkways and steps provide the homeowners access to the street and neighbors below.

Site Challenges: Richardson Bay, home to the Richardson Bay Audubon Sanctuary, is listed as impaired due to pathogens. The bay is especially sensitive to pollutants as it is shallow and enclosed with little tidal action. The design program included capturing stormwater from impervious surfaces and directing that water to an architecturally integrated stormwater bio-retention planter where the water is retained and filtered. Additionally, the walled entry gardens slow and contain stormwater runoff from the steep slopes. Native and adapted planting are lushly planted to minimize site runoff.

Architecture offices involved in the design: Charles Stinson Architecture

Location: Belvedere, California, United States

Design year: 2021

Year Completed: 2022


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