Surfacedesign, Inc. is a landscape architecture and urban design firm based in San Francisco, California. Led by James A. Lord, Roderick Wyllie, and Geoff di Girolamo, Surfacedesign is a multidisciplinary team of landscape architects, horticulture specialists, urban designers, artists and architects collaborating to realize dynamic parks, campuses, plazas, waterfronts, civic landscapes, master plans, and private gardens around the world.
Our practice seeks to ask questions, observe, and listen to the site, and create design solutions that are pragmatic and poetic. Interactive and meaningful collaboration between project stakeholders, ranging from clients, designers, community groups, and city agencies are essential components to the shifting tactics required to program dynamic sites. Surfacedesigns’s outreach and visioning work focuses on building partnerships and innovative strategies for placemaking.
Integral to the ideology of the practice, Surfacedesign focuses on cultivating the human connection to the built and natural world, pushing people to engage with the landscape in new ways. Our approach emphasizes and celebrates the unique context and imaginative potential of each project. The studio’s design process is rooted in asking novel questions and listening to a site and its users – a process that has led to engaging and inspiring landscapes that are rugged, contemporary, and crafted.
Auckland International Airport is strategically located on the eastern edge of an isthmus of the North Island of New Zealand, where the topography unfolds into the rugged coastline. This is the region where the Maori first arrived in waka canoes from Polynesia, transforming the landscape through the cultivation of tropical plants in stone-lined excavations that became a sacred typology. Centuries later, European immigrants further modified the landscape with the cultivation of orchards and timber trees. They, too, protected the crops from the harsh climate with strict hedgerows.
The airport landscape is an expression of this engagement of people and land, celebrating the multiple histories of New Zealand’s vernacular landscapes. Stone mounds that reference Maori stonesfields rise from the ground. The earthforms address on-site soils remediation and stormwater treatment, part of the larger ecological mission of the airport.
Smaller stone ‘blades’ reference the motion of a jet engine, and emphasize the excitement of arrival, travel, and cinematic choreography through the airport landscape. Native New Zealand grasses soften the blades and connect them to the regional landscape. International travelers to and from Auckland generally arrive in the dark. Leveraging the importance of light as part of the airport travel experience in Auckland, the airport celebrates the New Zealand landscape in light. A spectrum of colors pulled from the dramatic New Zealand landscape, from Hukafalls to the volcanoes in Auckland, is projected on the stone blades and welcome travelers as they arrive.
Expedia HQ is located a mile north of downtown Seattle on a 40-acre waterfront site with sweeping views of Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, and Downtown. Until 1969 the site existed as water between two piers extending into the Sound. Over the course of 7 years the site was infilled with dirt and construction debris, eventually forming the land that is now the site of Expedia HQ.
The Expedia HQ design team was tasked to envision a campus that could not only could facilitate its Northwestern workforce, but also provide an innovative approach to workplace and sustainability. Essential to the design is the public interface. The Elliott Bay Trail skirts the waterfront edge of the campus to downtown Seattle. Prior to improvement, a shared bike and pedestrian trail turned a blind corner that was unpleasant and dangerous for users. The upgraded trail and provision of public space softened the sharp corner into a curve, created separate bicycle and pedestrian paths to improve safety, plus a meandering park planted with a variety of native and Salmon Safe plantings.
The Expedia HQ campus invites users—employees and the broader Seattle community—to pause at the edge of Elliott Bay. Celebrating the land-water threshold, reclaimed materials and vibrant native plantings highlight the sculpted topography of the site. Sinuous bike and pedestrian paths are coupled with the open areas where visitors can discover their own routes. Curved stepped terraces allow for groups or individuals to gather at multiple elevations and take in views of the larger regional landscape. The Expedia HQ campus is a place to celebrate and reinforce sense of place while defining a new landscape approach centered on stewardship.
Inspired by the existing modernist façade, the courtyard at IBM Victoria Ward tower showcases a landscape expression of modern Hawaiian architectural motifs and cultural history. The building was designed by Vladimir Ossipoff, Hawaii’s quintessential modernist, but the original landscape was never fully realized.
The courtyard design pays homage to Ossipoff’s facade pattern in the paving of the ground plane and in a new elevated water feature. The subtly articulated courtyard accommodates both events and everyday use. The water feature’s elements showcase moving reflections of the facade and project it as a dynamic horizon line for the site that bridges landscape and architecture.
Paving patterns reveal three dynamic qualities of the same volcanic stone, rooting the site in Hawaii’s geology. The honed, flamed, and split-faced surface treatments are expressed through the patterned courtyard and display different effects as the light moves throughout the day.
The landscape also celebrates Hawaii’s creation myth to create a space that speaks to its cultural history. Workshops with Native Hawaiian descendants helped articulate physical expressions of this sacred oral history where Earth Mother and Sky Father’s earthly children were first Taro, and then Man, created to care for Taro. Projections of Sky Father through the glass bottom of the water feature onto the Taro plantings and Earth Mother below.
The minimalist palette of plants and stone expresses a distillation of the materiality and plantings of the surrounding Hawaiian landscape. The landscape is the first contemporary design in Hawaii to showcase all native and endemic plant species, educating visitors about Hawaiian ecologies in an urban context.
Located in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco, Pierpoint Lane is comprised of a public park, a major streetscape, and a public amenity roof level terrace. This inviting landscape project is located along a developing stretch of Mission Bay, and its public amenities are a catalyst to transform the district into a dynamic and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with Pierpoint Park as the centerpiece. Streetscapes and road frontages seamlessly connect the active adjacent streets to the Park, enticing passersby to interrupt their walk along 3rd Street to experience this new typology of greenspace in Mission Bay. What was originally intended to be solely a fire access became a vibrant park amenity for the public.
A strategic selection of materials and layout promote intuitive circulation while planting provides for a varied, immersive experience. Gathering spaces on Pierpoint Lane are interspersed throughout the site, providing the Mission Bay workforce, community, and visitors alike places of respite amid the energetic urban context.
The site includes seismic and geotechnical complexities as well as saline landscape conditions, all of which are addressed proactively in the landscape. Setting beds for materials and planting were engineered to address differential settlement. Stormwater management is integrated into the park seamlessly, with a series of bioretention planters featuring seasonally changing planting that frame gathering spaces for people.
This Woodside residence nestles seamlessly its 3-acre site in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains. From conception, the design aimed to blur the line with the surrounding landscape and borrow vistas of the adjacent mountains. Mitigating the site’s naturally rolling topography, a series of carefully inserted stairs, terraces, and walls negotiate the grades and create a series of garden rooms.
The entry is a winding journey through an orchard of ancient olive trees lined by hedges of dwarf olives and rows of lavender opening into a court of exotic succulents.
A fire pit and mirror-like infinity pool foreground the terrace vineyard and define the central gathering area. Aligned to transition into the infinity pool edge, a subtle retaining wall simultaneously negotiates a change in grade and demarcates a change in planting zones. Beyond this threshold, a perennial meadow with meandering paths unfolds.
The meadow sits atop sculpted topography that exaggerates the pre-existing characteristics of the site, while seamlessly blending into the rolling hills of the surrounding area. Evergreen subshrubs and blooming perennials are the core of the meadow palette, while low water plants with proven structure and habitat-creation infill the remainder of the Mediterranean palette. The planting is arranged in drifts that meander down from the top of the “hills,” where the most xeric plants reside, into the “valleys,” where water runoff promotes a greener, lusher landscape. A winding path with a range of vantage points is woven into the diversely-planted meadow, ensuring a unique and varied seasonal experience. A belt of native perennials and evergreen shrubs create a buffer and firebreak around the site and stitch into the surrounding rural landscape.