04-01-22 | Feature

Italian-Renaissance Inspiration

Landscape Architecture by AHBE
by Staff

Because the house is situated near the natural canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, the landscape lighting is primarily indirect and low-level so as not to interfere with the natural surroundings and city view at night. This included recess lighting in the steps, up-lighting for the walls and water chain, down-lighting from the specimen trees and path lighting around the perimeter trail. PHOTO BY: FERNANDO GUERRA
The vista terrace features an infinity pool with a deck made from limestone and ipe wood. The shade structure was specified by the architect as an extension of the house. Under the structure is a barbecue and dining area. PHOTO BY: FERNANDO GUERRA
A sunken fire lounge is also part of the vista terrace. PHOTO BY: FERNANDO GUERRA
According to Calvin Abe, the design principal at the landscape architecture firm, the Vista Terrace and the Lower Oak Courtyard are connected by a symbolic water chain featuring a change in elevation of approximately 60 feet. On either side of the water chain is an olive grove laced with a California native grass called Festuca Rubra "Molate." PHOTO BY: SYBILLE ALLGAIER
The water chain terminates at an elliptical area, surfaced with decomposed granite that is a children's play area and family gathering space (it recently hosted a family wedding). In the middle it is a specimen oak tree that was spared from painstaking grading. On the left side in the photo is a water retention area that was mandated by city rules because of the extent and size of the house, and the amount of non-permeable hardscape. So water, particularly from the pool deck, and dining area gets piped to the lower terrace's wetland area, which contains juncus, a native rush. PHOTO BY: SYBILLE ALLGAIER
In this courtyard, which is above the parking garage, Abe decided to create a "play mountain," in honor of the surrounding mountains, and because the courtyard is opposite a playroom in the house. To do so, an 18"-deep well was created and then soil was added and mounded up. The two olive trees were planted in 6" x 6" x 4" tree wells that were submerged into the parking deck so that everything is flush with the deck. PHOTO BY: SYBILLE ALLGAIER
Terraced walls built with cast in-place concrete were used on the steep eastern hillside to create an organic vegetable garden and fruit tree orchard. PHOTO BY: SYBILLE ALLGAIER
AHBE, which has since merged with MIG, was the landscape architecture firm of record, and was there from the start of the architectural design by Shubin Donaldson Architects, for this new hillside house in Pacific Palisades, California. The decision was made to sit the residence at the highest point of the property to take advantage of the views, which extend to the ocean shoreline in Santa Monica. This choice facilitated a terraced landscape design reminiscent of gardens from the Italian Renaissance, including a water chain inspired by the landscapes at such historic places as Villa d'Este and Villa Lante. PHOTO BY: SYBILLE ALLGAIER

The Tramonto Residence is a 17,500-square-foot contemporary jewel set at the uppermost location of approximately two acres in a native oak woodland in the Pacific Palisades, California, foothills. Inspired by Italian Renaissance terraced gardens, the landscape facilitates the integration of the house into the natural hillside setting with a series of garden terraces serving multiple functions.

Terrace One
At the first level of the landscape is the vista terrace, a main family gathering area featuring an infinity pool, outdoor dining and barbeque area, a sunken fire lounge, and a seasonal perennial garden.

"That whole terrace was located there to take advantage of the view of the Santa Monica shoreline," says Calvin Abe, FASLA, the design principal at his landscape architecture company, AHBE (AHBE has since merged with MIG). "It was positioned so when you are sitting at the fire, it's kind of romantic with the view of the city lights of Santa Monica. And the dining terrace behind it is also lined up with the view. That is the whole reason the house is located in the corner of the lot. Because it is the highest point of the site."

He adds that once the choice to place the house there was made, the decision to terrace the landscape down the rest of the property made sense.
Terrace Two
In the middle terrace is an olive grove that frames the transition from the vista terrace to the lower oak courtyard-a change in elevation of approximately 60 feet. A distinct landscape water channel that is illuminated at night steps down through the grove connecting the upper and lower terraces.

Terrace Three
The highlight of the lower oak courtyard terrace is a preserved coast live oak that provides a canopy of shade for the area, which is programmed for larger family or social gatherings like a wedding or summer picnic as well as children's play. The courtyard is encircled by a wetland that cleverly disguises the site's stormwater drainage system in compliance with local regulations for stormwater capture and filtration.

"Off of this elliptical courtyard area, underneath the existing trees, are a series of other gardens," Abe reveals. "There is a beehive garden and the beginning of the private nature trail that wraps around the entire property."
This decomposed granite walkway undulates with the changing topography and is used to connect the family with nature as well as the property's multiple levels.

Additional Design Features
On the steep eastern hillside of the property, a terraced landscape wall contains the family's organic vegetable garden and fruit tree orchard.

The Zen Garden is an open-air courtyard walled by glass and encircled by the main living areas including bedrooms, offices, and playrooms. Two specimen olive trees offer shade and the children can play on a sculptural grass mound symbolic of the surrounding mountains.

Interweaving the indoor and outdoor spaces gives the family flexibility for a variety of uses while taking advantage of long and short vistas. The native landscape and tree canopy around the site's perimeter was conserved through special care taken in grading the site. Plant selection prioritized the owner's desire for the landscape to be self-sustaining with little need for water or maintenance.

While highly desirable with unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and proximity to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the location presented unanticipated challenges in gaining the required permits and approvals from the City of Los Angeles and California Coastal Commission as well as the acceptance of neighbors. It took two years for the project to make its way through the entitlement and approval process and another four years for design documentation, permitting, and construction.

At a cost of over 20 million dollars, the Tramonto residence is a singular family compound that tested the endurance and creativity of both the owner and the design team. As the landscape architect for the project, Abe, and his company, which has since merged with MIG, Inc., designed not only all of the exterior gardens and spaces, including the pool and spa area, terraced gardens and water elements, but also the play courts, perimeter walls and gates, and irrigation.

"Houses and gardens are a passion of mine," he states. "We worked with the owner and his family from day one, and successfully fulfilled their dream of having a house that not only met their long-term family needs, but also helped in creating a place that spoke to their values of a climate-friendly home and landscape."

Team List
Landscape Architect/Designers: Calvin Abe, FASLA, principal,
MIG, Inc. (formerly AHBE)
Architect: Shubin Donaldson Architects
Lighting Designer: HLB Lighting Design
Irrigation Designer: Sweeney & Associates


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