11-22-21 | Feature

Designing for a Top Return on Investment

Hardscape Renovations with Maximum Visual Impact

Among the numerous commercial properties that Site Design Studio of Tustin, California, has reimagined for The Muller Company, two are adjoining ones in San Jose, California. At both sites, the existing concrete and drainage systems were preserved to help reduce costs and construction time. The design work included this walkway at 555 Winchester. A rain fountain built from steel I-beams with a waterless cobble basin was placed opposite the building's entry. In front of the falling water, an arrangement of vertical stone blades is meant to bring to mind a mountain vista. Riley Fritsch of Southwest Boulder and Stone custom cut the blades, which have flat bottoms and are set on pins fixed in the concrete below. Only down-lighting and side-lighting was allowed so extrusion lights were installed on the underside of the fountain's crosspiece, along the basin's black limestone front face, in the steel portals lining the walkway and under the cantilevered bench tops made from ipe wood. In the foreground is a Euphorbia ingens succulent.
In this view, the steel portals are in a graduated repletion, each one dropping in height 3" to create a "trompe l'oeil," or false perspective effect terminating at a light box and ipe seating. Behind the portals, the neighboring residential building is hidden with the placement of two varieties of Podocarpus installed in poured-in-place concrete planters. On the opposite side of the Belgard paver walkway, in a field of cobble, is a row of three-foot-high bollards that mirror the shape of the steel portals.
Next door to 555 Winchester is the 12-story Tisch Tower. To help demarcate its entry, SDS designed a 25'-tall and 60'-long, steel-framed, Corten-faced portal with ledger stone-veneered columns. The living wall portion of the portal is made up of ornamental grasses. On the other side, in the building's outdoor work and recreation area, are raised wooden decks and Corten steel planters. The hardscaped surface (inset) includes porcelain pavers and fields of basalt and flagstone arranged in Penrose patterns, which result from a mathematical formula (named after its inventor Roger Penrose) that produces a seemingly random form of natural shapes. This allows the stone to be cut precisely and appear organic. Raised steel edging separates these materials from sections of cobble.
On the grounds of Del Ammo Crossings in Torrance, California, an old fountain, which hadn't been operable for years, was repurposed into a drip-irrigated garden that served as a nursery for future phases of the project. Its design of intersecting spheres of different colored cobble emulates the circular buildings on the site.
A second-story rooftop at the Del Ammo site became the location for an outdoor "people place." On top of existing concrete was set porcelain pavers, cobble and an ipe wooden deck that hides the new electrical and the drip irrigation for the planters from Old Town Fiberglass. The pots positioned on the cobble contain Furcrae macdougallii. The three rectangular ones hold Chondropetalum tectorum. The big pot in the background has a Ficus. Collapsible umbrellas offer cover to the owner-supplied, outdoor furniture.
In this section of the Del Ammo site, modular walls with angles that mimic those of the midcentury, modern office tower helped turn the existing mounded lawn into level planting areas, which were installed with succulents, grasses and drought tolerant trees. Access from the street is provided by a path, with less than 5% of grade, made from 4"-deep decomposed granite covered with particularly small pebbles (criva).
Working around six existing concrete planters, which now are capped with ipe and contain olive trees, Site Design's transformation of the entry plaza at the Main Street Town Center in Santa Ana, California, included random banding of 4"x12" concrete pavers in three shades of gray. "People places," were added with the help of ipe decks on pressure-treated Douglas fir sleepers, instead of pedestals, to make them level. The square fountain surrounded by two hues of poured-in-place concrete has 12 lighted jets. Water runs down its striated basalt sides into a cobble bed. Low Corten planters (bottom left corner) hold succulents and drought-tolerant grasses. Date palms frame this photograph.

Since 2005, Site Design Studio, a landscape architecture firm based in Tustin, California, has been working together with The Muller Company of California to create new identities for commercial properties that still have potential as vibrant spaces for the present day. A large part of the collaboration is a cost analysis for a given project, which looks to find ways to save money in certain matters such as demolition, the outlays of which can be constraining on a commercial renovation. To this end, the Site Design/Muller team has developed several applications to keep an asset's existing working systems, such as the concrete and integrated drainage, leaving more of the budget to spend on upgraded materials while shortening the construction phase.

Overall Approach
"As an underlying concept we endeavor to 'capture the space alive', a Zen approach called Shakkei," states Mike Sullivan, principal of the landscape architecture firm. "The process starts with understanding both the client and the site. To understand the site is to study the existing geometry, architecture, environmental influences and how people use the site. Playing off these influences, we create a new integrated look. A sequence of detailed spaces to the building fuses the design."

Design Principles
"Materials are used to create patterns," Sullivan notes. "Paving in neutral tones provides a matrix acting as a foil for other materials like wood, steel, acrylic, cobble, boulders and of course, plantings. We use cool grays, tans, browns and beige for warmth, black for contrast and lots of colorful plants, flowering trees, grasses and succulents as accents to the paving spaces. Blended with the inorganic elements, they bring a natural feel to an urban space: a playful integration of materials. The concept of biophilia is elemental in the process, responding to man's instinctive bond with nature."

The materials are coordinated with the architect so that integration is achieved inside and outside.

To illustrate this symbiotic relationship between the developer, the designer and their renovation strategy, here are brief accounts of three projects.
555 Winchester/Tisch Tower -
San Jose, California
These two neighboring structures are adjacent to the area's famous Winchester Mystery House, as well as Santana Row. At 555 Winchester, which used to be called the paper clip building because of the shape of its entry, the new design transformed the entrance with a contemporary, asymmetrical look and provided an update to the hardscape and softscape surrounding the building.

The reimagined visual approach to the front door includes a walkway made of Belgard pavers. On one side of the path, five tall steel portals resembling the number seven, are placed in a graduated repletion, dropping in height 3" each time to create a "trompe l'oeil" effect. On the other side of the path, three-foot-high lighting bollards mirror the shape of the steel portals.

An ipe seating area serves as a terminus to the walkway. Here, opposite the building's entry, is a rain fountain with a waterless cobble basin and an arrangement of vertical stones meant to create the imagery of layered mountains.

For the 12-story Tisch Tower, built in 1974, the approach was to introduce a new geometric design to the outdoor area and add "people places." A 25-foot-tall and 60-foot-long Corten steel portal to this area was designed to create intrigue, a sense of place and a strong entry experience. Once through the portal, raised Zen gardens were included to provide an environment of wellness. The existing deck was upgraded with porcelain paving, wood decks, Corten steel planters and, in the spirit of Silicon Valley, stone paving in Penrose patterns.

Del Amo Crossings - Torrance, California
This 12-story, midcentury modern building rises above the city across from Del Amo Fashion Center. After the addition of new businesses, the center was transformed by connecting the existing spaces with a combination of neutral-hued concrete pavers, porcelain, cobble, gravel and decomposed granite.

"The color scheme is also reflected in the new building motif integrating the two into a cohesive unit," Sullivan relates.
A 1970s-built fountain was converted in to a grid garden, which was then used as a nursery for ensuing phases of the project. It was comprised of succulents and flowering plants with "a modern application of gravel, synthetic turf and boulders," according to Sullivan. "The layout mimicked a modern painting."

On a second-story rooftop, the existing surface was used as the base for an outdoor area that reflects the colors of the building's architecture. This space now includes porcelain pavers, an ipe wooden deck that hides the new electrical and the drip irrigation systems, charcoal-hued, poured-in-place concrete, pedestrian lights, shaded sitting areas and a variety of plants in pots from Old Town Fiberglass.

An innovative method of paver installation, which resulted in the appearance of a woven textile, was specified to impart appeal to a sizeable motor court, the middle of which was enhanced with a large planter containing a grove of oaks that juxtapose the natural California landscape into the new design.

"Carefully placed boulders add to the natural and modern counterpoint," states Sullivan. "Biophilia."

Main Street Town Center - Santa Ana, California
This eight-story office tower had a rundown, dated 70s landscape and hardscape. The design layout reinforced the building well, but felt empty and lifeless. Working with the existing concrete planters and reinforcing the symmetry to the building entry, a well-balanced but intimate space was created. The design included concrete pavers in three shades of gray, ipe decks to provide warmth and blue shade structures to reflect the blue glass and create shaded people places. Low Corten steel planters interrupted with cobble texture are meant to deliver a floating feel on the decks. Slightly raised planters accommodate grade changes and create enclosure to the spaces. A square basalt fountain has 12 lighted jets with water running down the edges into a cobble bed, cooling the space in the hot summer months.

Team List
Owner: The Muller Company
Project Manager: Rich Fragapane
Costa Verde Landscape: Del Amo, Main St
Black Diamond Builders: Main Street
BYCOR: Del Amo Crossings
McClarney Construction: Winchester
Techon Construction: Winchester
Nadel Architects: Del Amo
Hendry Interiors: Del Amo, Main Street
The Wren Group: Del Amo Crossings
Studio G Architects: Winchester
Holden Water Fountain Engineer: Winchester


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