Liberty Hill Residence
Marked by its dramatic sloping topography, this private garden is San Francisco's Liberty Hill has dedicated areas for entertaining and children's play, which are defined and navigated by an innovative arrangement of hardscape materials. Cor-Ten steel boxes serve as retaining structures and planters, extending along the site's perimeter and penetrating the surrounding wood fence. Taken as a whole, the backyard is an abstracted allusion to the hilly city itself, which appears to fall away behind the garden when viewed from the upper terrace or out the back windows of the house. The Cor-Ten boxes and concrete walls were added to existing stone retaining walls to create a series of switchbacks that guide the journey from the house into the gardens. Erected mid-century, the stone walls form a natural part of the vocabulary of rugged and refined materials-stone, concrete, wood, and steel – while uniting the site's past and present incarnations in a visually harmonious way. The steel boxes, which harbor plant life up top, descend into the ground plane and insert into the redwood fences a geometric board from pattern on the concrete walls that wrap into the fence. Seeking to maximize permeability for the overall health of the garden, the large children's area is lawn and the entertainment terrace is decomposed granite. The planter boxes not only afford the homeowners an opportunity to do some hands-on gardening, they also attract pollinators such as birds and butterflies. The concrete steps are framed by runnels to enhance drainage (while highlighting the sloped nature of the garden), and a native sedge called ‘Juncus’ helps purify run-off before it enters the groundwater system. Because the steel boxes are framed by the runnels, they appear almost to rise from below the ground plane, adding depth to the composition. As the homeowners spend as much time looking down on the garden from their home as being in it, they also appreciate its sculptural quality, which is punctuated by plant material such as Japanese maples and the softening presence of shade lovers such as ferns, irises, viburnum, and anemones.
Directions: Located midway between 24th Street and Market off Castro Street.
Photo: Stephen Orr