Prospect House: The Value of Green

Summary

Seeking to attract potential buyers, speculative real estate developers build projects they believe will be financially successful in the marketplace. When innovative design and the advancement of environmental benefits becomes secondary to fiscal return, landscape architecture often resorts to prescribed formulas – consumptive lawns, maintenance intensive plantings, and interactive programming – resulting in projects that turn their back on local ecology. Realizing the inherent value of landscape architecture to a home specifically built to embrace the surrounding mountain environment, the developer of Prospect House challenged the landscape architect to create of a series of outdoor living spaces that would engage every room in the home with the surrounding environment. Promoting healthy habits and lifestyles through nature became the marketing directive for the project. Choosing simplicity over complexity and restraint over grandeur, the landscape architect embraced the contextual alpine ecology, threading elements of native plant material throughout. Collectively, the design communicates the benefits of a designed natural landscape, both as a contribution to its surrounding neighborhood, and as a salable commodity in a competitive real estate marketplace.

Narrative

BACKGROUND
Due to their size and budget constraints, speculative residential development projects often do not garner the attention they deserve when compared to larger commissions. Using economics as a purveyor of value, such projects conceived under strict budgetary formulas offer distinct value when landscape architecture is employed as a point of differentiation in a market of more ordinary living environments. With an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living environments focused on native ecologies, views and natural sunlight, Prospect House offers a refreshing perspective on mountain and resort residential real estate trends.

INSPIRATION
Located at 8,500’ just 13 miles west of the Continental Divide, the property overlooks the end of a glacially-formed mountain valley. Situated in a distinct ecosystem characterized by arid south and west-facing slopes, resilient tree species, including aspen and Ponderosa pine, congregate in drainages and areas where water collects, while the predominant dry meadow ecosystem offers important forage and cover for wildlife and birds. Clear skies, clean air and water, and abundant recreational opportunities make this area a favorite destination for individuals and families seeking respite from crowded urban centers.

In a densely wooded neighborhood on the cusp of complete transformation from 1960s split-level homes to 21st century contemporary family retreats, the .75-acre size property is similar in size to many average residential lots in America. As one of few untouched properties in its neighborhood, the property could have assumed the anonymity of many of its neighbors and turned its back on the natural systems of the surrounding natural environment in favor of a plane of blue grass floating in a sea of boulders and non-native perennials. Instead, the design vision for the residence embraced the montane ecology of the site, threading elements of native plant material throughout the garden. Modest materials, organized in simple geometric forms, expand and contract with the topography and architecture. Sensitive site planning combined with organically-derived design elements purposely blur property boundaries, strengthening the notion of living in the great outdoors.

DESIGN
Prospect House was sited to capture broad panoramic views to the surrounding mountains and valley. The approach to the home begins at the bottom of a meandering residential street that climbs steeply through old growth pines and aspen woodlands to an arrival court. The home—a simple L-shaped, contemporary wood structure—was organized around the view in such a way that all rooms open on to a foreground terrace and mountain panorama. The home and terraces rest on a naturally-formed topographic bench. Aggressive containment of site work and grading leaves the surrounding hillside untouched and preserved.

On the front sidethe design incorporates an experience that is accessible from the public street-level perspective as well as the privacy of interior rooms. From the street, guests meander through a meadow of native grasses, punctuated by a veil of quaking aspens and pines purposely located to filter views from oncoming traffic. Subtlety integrated along the dining terrace, a vegetated swale captures, cleanses, and infiltrates runoff from impervious surfaces before it reaches the adjacent slope, reducing the risk for hillside erosion and soil contamination. From inside the home, the meadow appears to merge with the mountains, creating a dramatic and painterly visual experience. In lieu of traditional bluegrass, a native meadow mix reduces irrigation by 40% and overall maintenance regime in line with seasonal—not weekly—needs.

On the back side, the terrace integrates primary gathering functions including a dining table, sitting lounge, and small spa. Strategic suppression of the terrace 18” below the home’s finished floor elevation allows for unimpeded views to the valley floor from inside the home. In addition, the terrace cleverly integrates glass skylights, introducing natural light into the home’s subterranean spaces. Plantings form low, natural boundaries across the site, interspersing pattern, texture, and seasonal color in a predominantly horizontal plane of interior and exterior living space.

To the west, a steeply sloped native landscape gives way to uninterrupted views of mountains and valley. A 30” terrace edge incorporates a foreground of dwarf sumac, effectively eliminating the need for a traditional guardrail, which would have impeded the view. The result – a modern interpretation of a classic ha-ha wall – is an organic vertical barrier that maintains an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond.

RESULTS
Collectively, the garden’s design communicates the benefits of a designed natural landscape, both as a contribution to its surrounding neighborhood, and as a salable commodity in a competitive real estate marketplace. Under contract eight months prior to its completion for the highest price/square foot in the neighborhood’s history, the marketplace responded with great enthusiasm. The new owners noted that the project’s emphasis on sinuous outdoor living combined with an elegant yet informal low-maintenance landscape that defers to the grandeur of the existing environment offered significant distinction in the decision-making process.

Plant List

Quaking Aspen
Ponderosa Pine
Pitkin County Native Seed Mix
Diablo Ninebark
Dwarf Gro-Low Sumac
Blue Oat Grass

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):

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