Context and Inspiration
The 2.5-acre, forested site sits on a sparse and rocky promontory overlooking Montana’s Gallatin Range – a visually spectacular glacially-carved landscape that lies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. A climate of extremes, winters here are isolating and frigid, and average over 300 inches of snowfall annually. Summer, fleeting and bright in the northerly latitude, brims with movement and growth. Wildlife and birds return to the high country while native mountain flora carpets the open meadows with a robustness that belies the fragility of its alpine environment.
Enticed by the environment’s dynamic of extremes, the owners embarked on the creation a family retreat, one that married a contemporary mountain home composed of natural materials with an environment carved by wind, water, and ice. The home, crisply executed through a darkened palette of stone, steel, and wood, purposefully disappears into the surrounding coniferous forest. The garden—an artful composition of restrained geometries and bold textures—extends the visual and functional relationship of the home into the landscape, limiting the footprint of impact. In a collaboration of creative talent, the architect, interior designer, and landscape architect successfully achieved a vision that embodies a sense of place and belonging in a rugged and inhospitable natural environment.
Preserving the Integrity of the Gallatin Range
An initial site plan proposed a driveway alignment that bisected a forested and rocky ridge, leaving a significant scar that would have been visible from the home. The landscape architect, invited to the project after site planning was complete, suggested an alternative and prolonged entry sequence, a move that maintained the integrity of the landform while utilizing the long and linear lot to visually and physically separate the home from the entry drive.
Entering the property at an elevation slightly above the autocourt, the driveway gently negotiates the sloped topography, maneuvering around mature pines and lichen-covered geologic escarpments. Approaching the crest of the ridge, filtered views through the forest open to the home, intentionally set low in the landscape on the easternmost section of the property. The landscape opens up on the descent into the autocourt, revealing a panoramic vista of rugged mountains beyond.
Refuge and Prospect
Because the surrounding landscape is so dominant, the garden is limited to two distinct linear vignettes that extend both the visual and physical functions of the home. From the entry, a horizontal walkway and vertical wall create a procession that features sculpture, designed and crafted by the client. The walk—composed of cut pavers and loosely cracked native rock—includes an organized grid of quaking aspen, an organic addition that infuses seasonal color, texture, and shade. The result is a design that delineates cultivated and restored spaces, and offers privacy from the nearby road.
By comparison, the second garden is conceived as an abstract reference to the geologic scree fields and theater-like Montana skies. Emerging as a small spring, water spirits its way from the front entry at the high point of the building, flowing downward in a stream of broken rock fragments softened with a patina of native alpine plants. Beneath a suspended glass bridge linking the public and private areas of the home, craggy boulders appear intermittently, their organic jagged forms rising in contrast to the architecturally crisp, stone walls. A central feature of the home’s main living areas, the stream offers both a visual and audible spectacle, its sound permeating the interiors and its reflections of the sky and mountains a constant reminder of the extraordinary surrounding natural environment.
As the stream course approaches the lower level of the home, water diffuses across an undulating stone delta, slipping beneath a bridge of floating stones, and collecting in a still pool that terminates on a destination firepit. In a feat of engineering that abstracts and exaggerates the ephemeral nature of montane streams and lakes, the landscape architect was able to utilize modern technology to create an experiential art installation that transforms a dry stream bed into a glassy plane of water (and all variations in between) over a 30-minute period.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
The garden reinforces the owner’s commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural beauty of the site. Sustainable design elements include:
- Water Efficiency and Native Plantings: A rainwater collection system captures snowmelt and rainfall from the roof and autocourt to support the stream. When not in use, water is emptied into an underground cistern and utilized for irrigation, effectively eliminating any use of potable water outside the home. The planting design responds to the harsh growing conditions of the high-alpine site. Indigenous native grasses and wildflowers surround the home, requiring small amounts of irrigation only until establishment.
- Site Disturbance – Multiple measures taken during construction reduced impact to the slow-growing lodgepole forest. First, the landscape architect assisted in the development of a construction management plan, which aligned areas needed for construction staging to occur in areas of proposed improvements. Second, and during most of the construction period, a direct road offered a means of temporary access. The design intentionally called for a delay of construction of the final driveway to reduce the risk of over-use and damage. Most of the disturbed landscape is restored, envisioned to maximize the transparency of the residence in a natural landscape.
- Forest Management – The existing forest was a monoculture, a result of decades of neglect. Deadfall, typically removed when the project is complete, was removed at the beginning of the construction process, a preemptive measure specified by the landscape architect to enable sunlight to penetrate the tree canopy, encouraging a rich diversity of native understory shrubs, wildflowers, and meadow plantings to emerge in tandem with the completion of the home and garden.
Colorado Blue Spruce
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):