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        tomorrow's ruins              

Precast Concrete Columns

Masonry endures and is the literal cornerstone of civilization.  

From it we carve out our living spaces.  Within that context, the exterior designer/builder gets to play - composing a choreography of living and man-built elements which surround us.  


The designers' task & delight is in the choice and composition of such elements and their spatial juxtapositions.  The 'profession' of Landscape Architecture has, in large part failed to remember that it is a 'practice', a challenge to ones creativity & sensibilities, rather than a 'boiler plate' template of predictable materials.  


Cantera Block wall with over-sized footing, stem-wall, and strategically placed expansion joints.

Throughout this site's narrative, I have touched on the concept of 'tomorrow's ruins'.  We have all seen examples of built ruins, whether an old adobe fort or a crumbling cathedral or crusader's castle.  Perhaps, the roofs caved-in after a fire; oftentimes, old abandoned buildings' roofs come down after termites have eaten away the window and door lentils, that were composed of wood. What is left, after time has weathered them further, not to mention marauders that have salvaged building materials; what is left, is a ruin.

A column here, a wall section there might be all that remains.  What is common to these masonry fragments is that someone built an over-sized and well placed footing beneath them, leading to their preservation.  

In that spirit, I build most all of my masonry projects with over-sized and heavily reinforced footings and stem-walls.  My hope and vision is that they too will stand as a reminder of who and what, once was.


It's a simple methodology: overbuilt footings, strategically placed expansion joints that follow the stepped courses of block construction, and the addition of rebar & grouted cells to designated wall sections.  

Consider this methodology a time capsule, built in stone.

Stone wall
Wall Materials discussed below:
*  Mortar-set Cantera Stone
*  Straw bale & Stucco
*  Gabion rock & Wire
*  CMU block & Stucco
*  Dry-stack River Rock
*  Mortar-set River Rock
*  CMU block & Stucco w/inlay iron window
*  CMU block & Stucco w/inlay brick window
*  Rammed Earth w/concrete stemwall & cap
Cantera Stone entry wall sitting on top of a solid-core, concrete block foundation & stem-wall.  Note that this foundation is 'overbuilt' to allow for it and its cantera 'remnants' to become, 'tomorrow's ruins' -
think crusader castle.
Exterior kitchen island
In Mediterranean fashion, this high block wall provides separation from the questionable outside avenue, while creating a cloistered courtyard.  
Now, a wall can certainly be more than just a partition; the offset blocks, for example, provide a climbing place for kids, or simply multiple surfaces to set a pot of grandma's geraniums!  
It is also an opportunity to back in a BBQ/fire-pit and entertainment counter-top w/storage beneath for charcoal, wood, an a great place for a game of hide-and-seek.
Lastly, in the corner is a set of very cool cantera stone spheres, fashioned into a cascading, bubbling water feature - another 'hidden spring'.
Straw bale wall

Just around the corner of this 1/4 block compound is another enclosure wall, penetrated by a driveway.  This wall is composed of Straw Bale & Stucco - it was a regular neighborhood 'barn raising'.  It too, sits on an oversized concrete foundation & stem wall.  

An intuitive designer al-ways will 'critical path' circulation patterns & uses;  in this case, knowing of all the wild barrio parties which would occur herein, it was decided to build the wall pilasters out of masonry block.  Labamba still has a substantial fender bender to prove the wisdom in this application.

CMU Block & Stucco.
You're not going to find very many landscape wall enclosures  without 
for a door, gate, or window.
When using custom doors the architect/builder generally will have their unique dimensions and weight requirements, long before footings are poured.  
Planning for those penetrations will change your wall design.  Sounds obvious-right?
You'd be surprised....
Gabion stone wall

Awesome building material (Fred Flinstone's got nothing on me) - Gabion Wall construction.  Hand or machine placed stone or rubble within a cage of rebar mesh panels.  Simple field welds attach the panels to pre-cut lengths of both angle & channel iron. (If you really want an accent to this earthen look, try sending some of the metal components in to be powder coated - the colors span a wide range - think '60's cars).  

Here, you have a choice of footings; a traditional concrete pour, or a compacted rubble base.

Rebar Arbor mounted in masonry wall
Climbing vine on Arbor
Multi-use, Block & Stucco wall.  Here again is an example of exploiting the full potential of a partition wall.  Note the stepped, seating walls (bancos), the way in which the cells of the block wall receive the rebar posts, and how the posts become a climbing scaffold for plant materials (see next photo).  
The programming of the design/build commission here was multi-faceted:  "all exterior envelope-walls, both front & backyard, were modeled as play equipment, for the grand-kids".  
The walls could be scaled, the rebar posts shimmied-up, and the overhead spans made for a great jungle gym.  (I'm sure that you L.A.'s shiver within the envelope of your liability insurance).  
Hey , no guts, no glory! 
Note, vine coverage after two seasons of growth, and a few more sculptural elements added into the mix.
Dry stack river rock retaining wall
Dry-Stack River Rock
Mortar set river rock wall
Mortar-Set River Rock
Note: I couldn't resist, this pic is from Lithea Park in Ashland.
Recessed mortar joints in river rock wall along creek
Mortar-Set River Rock with Recessed Joints.
Note: whoops, couldn't resist, 
this pic is also from Lithia park.
Note: unless so noted, ALL of the pics & sketches represent a portion of my work these past three decades.
Mortar set retaining wall in river rock
Mortar-Set River Rock walls make a most excellent composition when building retaining walls.  Back in the day, when I submitted plans for permitting (silly me), I learned early on, the power of 'words'.  Thereafter, such retaining walls were named 'landscape terraces'.
river rock landscape terraces
Indeed, landscape terraces.......
Landscape planter wall with metal trellis
Anodized Woven Strap-Iron Grill
Landscape privacy wall with brick windows
Block & Stucco with
Strap-Iron Grill.
Adieu, for now to Barney Rubble walls, and back to the more 'urbane'.
penetration - (bad boy).....
A monolithic, homogeneous wall face has its place in the urban landscape, (think drive-by, gang-bangers').
However, when such security is not required, the face of a wall is a great opportunity to introduce a landscape window or two.
Block & Stucco with Brick Grill
Not only is this aesthetically pleasing it also provides ventilation, dappled sunlight, and a room with a view.
Oftentimes, one might think that such a grilled window exposes what lies beyond?  Realistically however, a passing pedestrian or vehicle cannot see through, unless he/she stops, puts their nose to the wall to peer within.  And, if that is case in your hood, you have bigger problems than a solid wall is going to cure.
Brick windows and cap.
The use of Rammed Earth in contemporary architecture is spotty at best, and less so in landscape architecture.  So, naturally I was attracted to this awesome building material.  I mean, what's not to like about it?
It's been around since we began adding in-law rooms to our caves.
More recently, historically, consider the Great Wall of China.
Stabilized Rammed Earth with Concrete Cap and Exposed Stemwall
                          Retaining Wall Enhancements - Pictographs:
Delineation of parking area, fronting garage, dressed in overhanging foliage to soften this monolith, and further enhanced with replica paintings of petroglyphs from the area's past inhabitants. 
Note that I was fortunate to have retained J.Hollis to paint these replicas.  She was also the artist to have gone down into the Columbia Gorge prior to the finish construction of the Bonneville dam.  She documented, 'by rubbings', these petroglyphic images, once carved into the stone cliff walls.  Here they are replicated in a pictoglyphic style.  Once the dam was complete, the flooding of the river canyon 'disappeared' these relics for all-time.
Note that in addition to the Pictoglyphs I have added a Stone Inlay detail into the corner bends of this Block & Stucco retaining wall.
Wall Elements.  Homogeneous, modular materials such as uniform block, or a skin of stucco generally provides a backdrop or canvas, whereas a Multi-Media Composition of wall materials provides a feature and thus more powerful statement.  Composition and choreography are the designers best friend.
'Asbestos and Dead Indians'
As promised back in, Fire Features, I mentioned an 'unrealized project', meaning, unlike all of the work presented on this site, I designed, but in this case it was never built.  Gads - It was sooo very cool, I really wanted to build this one:
A series of serpentine, rammed earthen walls, offset but spanning the frontage of a high profile restaurant.  
Twelve sections:  thirty foot by nine foot by two foot thick; it was the Grand Canyon of varying hues of compacted aggregates in rammed earth.
The offset ends of each rammed section were connected by six feet of metal trellis, and accompanying vines.  
Shade trees were to be planted in an offset fashion within the curves of the front and rear wall sections.  I'll dig around in storage and see if I can't come up with a drawing, or a photo of the scale model.
With plans and budget approved the initial excavation commenced.  A foot or so down into the topsoil a ruins was discovered.  Immediately, red-flagged, 
construction was shut down whilst the historical society took a peek.  Well, nothing turned out to be 'historic', just a few old shacks from the '30's.  However (just my luck) asbestos was found: floor tiles, chimney, roof tiles...dang.  The super-duper-asbestos-police came in and cleaned it up.
A year or more later construction resumed.  And deeper we went (you know by now my passion for overbuilt footings, as an aspect of 'tomorrow's ruins' thinking).  And yes, wouldn't you know it; we came upon an Indian graveyard, of sorts.  It was to take years to get things sorted out.
And that readers was the end of the beginning -
Asbestos and Dead Indians indeed.
However, should anyone out there be interested in a Wall, (perhaps Pink Floyd??....).
Here is an example of a Rubble Wall, composed of old Adobes, River Rock, and a slathering of mortar and Lime Wash.  
Funky but spunky.  
Small in-built grottoes permeate this wall element, along with accent lighting hidden within those cells.
As you've no doubt recognized,
I am an advocate of old school Design & Build.  And yes, I do get its relevance, even in architecture.  
However, for most of us lowly landscrapers, a set of technical drawings is most often just a waste of time and money for the client.
Assuming, that you know what you are doing, there are greater benefits in simply going from sketch to builtd, within a budget number.
Ya, perhaps a Rubble Wall is a poor example. For better examples of going from sketch to built look at Water Features and Pergolas.
A parting thought;  when you are going to build a free-standing or retaining wall, where possible, put a whoopee in it...
A straight wall with right angles offers a lot of secondary opportunities to define activity areas.  Doing so with curving walls is a bit more challenging, in terms of the less defined spaces the turns create.  
In this wall example, its purpose was less multi-faceted, simply, to retain and delineate the upper planting terrace and its adjacent pathway.
Built from a popular, Modular Block System, that can be seen throughout this subdivision, risks a rather mundane experience; making it a bit...boring.  
However, by modulating its form, from a simple straight line to a Serpentine one,
the experience is more...sensual.
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