Founded in 1990, the focus of the LaGuardia Design Group’s mission has always been to merge architecture and nature through creative grading, planting native species, and stitching structures into the rolling contours of eastern Long Island. In some cases, the distinctions between architecture and landscape dissolve altogether and they appear to be one and the same. In the process, LDG specializes in negotiating and working with the many environmental restrictions that protect wetlands from pollution and water-front properties from tidal flooding. In doing so, LDG serves as a guide on how to combat rising sea-levels, damage to our shorelines, threatened marine ecosystems, and coastal flooding through resourcefulness and ingenuity.
From the beginning, the ambition has been to create beautiful and enduring landscapes. Christopher LaGuardia, the firm’s founder, gradually grew the company, finding skilled designers to create the firm’s sustainable, simple, aesthetic environments. Today the firm is led by LaGuardia and partners Ian Hanbach and Daniel Thorp. The firm has evolved over the years but despite the growth of the office- the legacy of creating and implementing unique design solutions set within the context of sustainability and native landscapes remains unchanged.
Every project explores an opportunity to create sustainable and resilient environmental strategies that aid in mitigating and offsetting the result of global climate change on a local level. The LaGuardia Design Group aims to develop and shape a design model to serve as a standard for the entire industry.
This original Norman Jaffe designed residence situated between a Sagaponack potato field and an oceanfront shoreline, is a minimalist natural environment set within the dunes. The brief for the LDG team was to reimagine and reconstruct a landscape appropriate to a seaside setting and to fabricate a self-sustaining landscape able to resist the erosive power of the weather and a slowly rising sea level.
To generate the tremendous amount of fill required to recreate the dunes, a new pond was excavated and then naturalized with emergent and submergent vegetation.
Newly planted with beach grass, the constructed dunes gradually descend to a rolling meadow filled with a mix of assorted cool and warm season grasses. The cool season fescues thrive in the spring and fall, while the warm season little and big bluestem and switchgrass provide summer interest. The pond was surrounded with native wetland vegetation and stocked with fish and aquatic plants. This planting provides a visual integrity, and it accomplishes the goal of producing a truly self-sustaining landscape.
Seaside is an example of new infrastructure creating opportunity to improve and restore the natural systems of a site and its surrounding context. The project site was highlighted by a dilapidated home that was falling into the Atlantic Ocean; the result of a receding shoreline. The landscape was comprised of overgrown ornamental and invasive planting types, which had out-competed the native plant species.
The new design relies on a minimalist approach to development, that harmonizes with the natural systems of the site. Walls and terraces of limestone rise out of the grade, the buff-color echoes the color of the beach sand and extends the lines of the house, creating a strong visual sense of integration.
This theme of integration continues throughout the landscape. A new dune was created between the house and ocean as protection from future storms, and this was stabilized with a planting of American beach grass. The swimming pool was placed overlooking pond, overflow edges in both the pool and the spa transform them into mirrors whose still water surface mimics that of the pond below, creating another visual link between residence and setting. With a completely native planting palate, the lines between structure and site are blurred. The result is a project that feels appropriate in its natural setting.
Sometimes the most attractive settings come with serious challenges. This pristine site, for example, is nestled into a heavily protected natural dune system that is home to uncommon native species of plants and animals. Even walking on the dunes is prohibited. As a result, only 20 percent of the lot was open to development, and the rest had to remain untouched. To keep the built landscape from seeming constricted and out of scale with the house, it had to be integrated seamlessly into its natural surroundings so that there was a sense of uninterrupted flow.
The LDG design team accomplished this by using only indigenous plants common in the dune system. To organize the landscape and create a sense of shelter around the house, the designers relied on native shrubs and trees. Using plants native to the setting also eliminated the need for amending the soil and relying on heavy irrigation.
The transition from house to pool is a broad rectangular deck of naturally weathered wood, and the pool itself was sculpted as a raised black plinth. To soften what could be a severe space, the adjacent terrace was paved with irregularly shaped flagstones laid dry so that drought-resistant sedums could be planted into joints.
Great restraint, combined with a deft touch and a special vision of the plantings, has produced a landscape that harmonizes with the surrounding dune system.
In this update of a classic estate, the clients retained the 1927 residence but commissioned LDG to completely redevelop the twelve-acre landscape. Notably, conventional features such as rose, cutting, and vegetable gardens were replaced with a series of tableaux to display the owners’ extraordinary collection of contemporary art.
Through collaboration with architects, designers, artists, and artist foundations, LaGuardia Design Group developed a master plan featuring contemporary additions to the garden, while also integrating existing historic elements. The challenge was to differentiate the respective areas while still respecting the existing collection of mature trees and observing the owners’ requirement that the views of the various artworks should not overlap.
Distinguishing the different areas was accomplished by adjusting the grade. The swimming pool and surrounding area were sunken so that the view from the house should not be of the required, four-foot-tall surrounding fence. The LDG design team also deployed the plantings judiciously. Of course, the plantings also help to emphasize the themes and set the tone.
Over the course of 35 years, the clients amassed a collection of renowned artwork representative of many contemporary movements. The progressive approach taken by the clients and design team allowed for the stewardship of the historic property while reimagining it in the context of contemporary culture for generations to come.
Contemporary Gardens of the Hamptons: LaGuardia Design Group 1990-2020 documents and explores a body of work spanning a thirty-year period of an environmentally compromised region on the east end of Long Island. Every project explores an opportunity to create sustainable and resilient environmental strategies in the face of rising sea-levels and coastal flooding. Each endeavor LDG takes on, offers an opportunity to develop and shape a design model to serve as a standard for the entire industry.
The firm has evolved over the years but despite the growth of the office- the legacy of creating and implementing unique design solutions set within the context of sustainability and native landscapes remains unchanged. Contemporary Gardens explores a selection of 21 enduring and diverse landscapes that aid in mitigating and offsetting the result of global climate change on a local level. The Monograph provides cultural and historical context to the work of LDG, while serving as a guide on how to combat rising sea-levels, damage to our shorelines, threatened marine ecosystems, and coastal flooding through resourcefulness and ingenuity.