Black Bear is a project that uses the challenges of the site as its strongest assets. Backing up to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the steep slopes afford a series of unique pathways, landings, and courtyards that have been seamlessly embedded into the hillside. The result is an articulated progression of steps and outdoor rooms that use clean surfaces and are richly planted. A combination of precise boulder setting along with engineered concrete and steel walls retain soil and artfully define spaces.

The client wanted a resort-like getaway at this Boulder foothills home. A place to relax with family and enjoy the outdoors with great views and privacy from the neighbors. They knew the site would be a challenge due to the steep grades, though they wanted to ensure it was as functional and beautiful as possible. They wanted the design of the landscape to compliment the contemporary architecture of the home while meeting all of the City of Boulder’s Green Point requirements.

The entrance to the house consists of a progression of boulder steppers through lawn leading to a staggered concrete staircase nestled between dense plantings and ornamental boulders, arriving at a formal staircase to the front door. Once on the main level of the house, sliding glass doors open to a courtyard, sitting one story above the front yard. The main feature of the courtyard is a swimming pool with an infinity edge detail, intersecting the yard while highlighting a level change from the upper patio to a lower play lawn. Facing the front yard is a contemporary glass railing, allowing for uninterrupted views of the city of Boulder below. The rear edge of the courtyard is defined by a custom steel panel fence, which leads to a naturalized hillside with a boulder stepper staircase, leading through Aspen trees and swaths of shade-tolerant plants.

Though the site offered up several challenges, every effort was made to create a garden and irrigation system that is efficient and sustainable. The design made sure to account for all microclimates on the site, ensuring that plants were ‘hydrozoned’ on the irrigation system. The programming of the system was done carefully over time to reduce the amount of run-off on the steep site. All landscaped area was prepared with a minimum of 5 cubic yards of compost per 1000 square feet and all planting holes were scarified and amended with 1/3 amendment to 2/3 existing soil to promote healthy and rapid root growth and reduce the need for fertilizers. The irrigation system includes high efficiency MP rotators, point source drip and a smart controller that is connected to a local weather station.

As mentioned, the steep grades were by far the biggest challenge to this project. In order to create a usable, safe and attractive space, It was necessary to get creative with steps and boulders. By adding a number of winding and intersecting paths and staircases, the finished product allows the user to access almost all parts of the property. Mid-way through the project’s construction, we experienced a very wet spring season, which made the steep slopes muddy and very difficult to work with. This, in combination with a tight deadline, made for a situation that required us to draw upon all of our expertise to keep working while protecting the safety of everyone involved.

Black Bear is unique in how it addressed the site and harnessed the difficulties that were presented as opportunities to create a meaningful experience in all spaces. The design maximized the potential of the site, through various forms of grading, leveling, and retaining soil. Despite inherent challenges of the site, coupled with tough circumstances during construction, we were able to push through to fulfill our vision and satisfy the desires of the client.

Name of the Project: Black Bear
Role of the Entrant in the Project: Landscape Architect & Contractor
Other Designers Involved in the Design of Landscape: All Landscape Designed by Marpa. Collaborators on install include:
Landscape Construction – Environmental Designs, Inc.
Swimming Pool Construction – Integrity Pool Builders
Concrete Construction – Cutting Edge Concrete
Architect for House – Surround Architecture
General Contractor for House – Treeline Homes
Project Location: Boulder, Colorado
Design year: 2014
Year Built: 2016


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