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.

View from the street, before the tenant moved in

View from the street, before the tenant moved in

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.

Section axonometric

Section axonometric

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.

My planting design

My planting design

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.


After the tenant moved in

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 

For Final Reviews! All across Los Angeles, GSD grads are flooding schools as guest jurors for Final Reviews. From USC to UCLA, Woodbury to SciArc, Otis to Pomona, students are presenting their final design projects of the semester to the critical eyes of dressed-in-black architects. It’s an exciting time of year to see the trends of student work and agendas of each of the schools. Just this week, I sat on a USC Second Year Review in which students were asked for the function to follow the form, and we had our own Final Reviews for First Year as well.

Happy Critiquing + Happy Holidays!

USC Second Year ReviewsLaurel Broughton and Brendan MuhaGSD Jurors: Andrew Atwood, Colin Sieburgh

USC Second Year Reviews
Laurel Broughton and Brendan Muha
GSD Jurors: Andrew Atwood, Colin Sieburgh

Colin Sieburgh and Geoffrey von OeyenGSD Jurors: Casey Hughes,  Andy Thompson

USC First Year Reviews
Colin Sieburgh and Geoffrey von Oeyen
GSD Jurors: Casey Hughes, Andy Thompson

ImageJoin us for the first GSD Alumni and Friends Weekend on the West Coast!

On Friday and Saturday, November 9+10, 2012, GSD faculty, alumni and friends from around the world will gather for a rich and stimulating weekend in Los Angeles.

The two days will include an exploration of LA’s revitalized downtown with those responsible for its rebirth, interactive panels with GSD faculty, and networking with other industry leaders. Explore quintessential West LA foodie cuisine and experience the Hammer Museum at the weekend’s culminating celebratory bash.

You are encouraged you to invite colleagues, clients and friends. Space is limited; please register early to secure your place.


Come meet up with other recent GSD grads on Friday, November 9th at 6 pm in West Hollywood!

Some GSD-ers will be in from out of town to attend Alumni Weekend events so let’s welcome them with open arms. This FREE party is just for us and will be a fun way to reconnect with other alums here in LA.

Come early and stay late! The night doesn’t have to end at the Cactus Lounge.

Cactus Lounge
8300 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Welcome to GSD WEST: the blog.

This club, started as a Facebook group in 2007, has three simple goals: 1) keep in touch with other GSD grads on the west coast, 2) get together every once in awhile to discuss design [or just to gossip], and 3) to support each other in our various design-related endeavors. The new 2012 blog format is aimed at providing a no-Facebook-strings-attached platform for a more public discussion.