Post by Stephen Billings
It seems thirty-somethings living in Beverly Hills aren’t the only ones getting facelifts these days …
so are the landscapes and buildings.
Last year I began working on a project in Beverly Hills. The architect was in charge of giving the building a ‘Fresh Identity’, and I was tasked with breathing new life into the sad, empty landscape. It’s a nondescript 1970’s building in all aspects: horizontal bands of mauve and red granite with smoky glass. The dank courtyard consisted of four ficus trees in raised, circular planters with seasonal offerings from the Home Depot. It was a plan-generated (as opposed to experientially generated) place of oddly scaled outdoor spaces that had never been occupied because it was unwelcoming.
The building is owned by a savvy New York developer with good taste and attention to the details. There were prospective entertainment tenants to think about when designing the landscape: ideas about a catwalk experience from the car to the lobby, women dressed in Miu Miu, men pacing nervously with smart phones. I decided to create a surface of undulating topography, densely planted in blue, grey and lavender, and a sparkling white surface for walkways and gathering spaces, with sinuous seat walls that weave throughout, connecting the two surfaces. It’s a pleasure to take these old plazas and strip them down to the structure like an etch-a-sketch. The new design was heavier than before, so we wrapped several of the existing structural beams with carbon fiber to support the new bosques of trees.
The planting palette consisted of materials from other Mediterranean climates (Australia, Italy, and Chile) as well as California natives. I chose three types of lavender (Lavandula heterophylla, L. intermedia x. ‘Provence’, L. ‘Hidcote Blue’), two types of Teucrium (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’, and T. species), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Blue Spires’), Pacific Coast Iris, and Westringia (W. fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’). The bright yellow flowers and chartreuse bark of the Palo Verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’) trees were arranged strategically in small bosques throughout the plaza. A gently sloping ramp leads to a larger gathering space carved out of the center of the plaza. Intimate meetings held outdoors would be concealed from the prying eyes of paparazzi by trees and undulating topography.
Then the tenant moved in.
Their management felt like the garden was better suited for Phoenix…certainly not for Beverly Hills. I learned that the tenant hired a landscape designer to tailor the garden to their particular needs. He used to cut hair for a living, but now he designs gardens.
I was crushed when I discovered that all of the planting I had arranged by hand over the course of several days (with the help of a coffee can filled with chalk, attached to a wooden stick that I used to define planting areas) was simply too arid and not colorful(!) enough. They preferred “a place where their agents could come outside for a bit of air, sit on the grass and munch on a cookie”. I’m not making that up.
I drove by the project six months after construction had been completed and discovered that all of the planting had been removed. The Palo Verde trees remained, as does the topography. They swim in a sea of thin, green lawn surrounded by a ficus hedge. Everything is evergreen and the garden will remain in a state of stasis. Certainly not reflective of the changing seasons as i had designed. This experience has never happened to me before and it was super disappointing to say the least.
I hope there’s a food truck parked out front serving delicious cookies.
Stephen Billings, Pamela Burton & Company Landscape Architecture