Discretely nestled in a dark, coniferous forest on a narrow topographic bench, Shadowrock Garden is located on the edge of small mountain town, in the shadow of a craggy dolomite peak, an iconic feature of geologic and geographic significance. For centuries, rock, fractured and split apart from this feature, has accumulated on this landscape, rendering development opportunities both difficult and expensive.
After living on the property for over a decade, the owner approached the Landscape Architect with a vision to transform the garden into a colorful and interactive space, anchoring it with a new swimming pool. Instead of a simple geometric pool, however, the family wanted to recreate an environment similar to that of the high alpine lakes that are so prevalent in high alpine environments where deep lakes are suspended within boulder outcroppings, their tranquil beauty highlighted by seasonal displays of tiny jewel-like alpine flowers. The alpine garden they desired would combine rock and water in a display of abundant color, uniquely suited to the surrounding Rocky Mountain landscape
CHALLENGES + DESIGN DRIVERS
Although its picturesque and forested setting evokes the feeling of infinite wilderness, the physical limits of the garden—constrained on all sides by the home, a small cabin, and steep terrain—defined the Landscape Architect’s scope to a project of less than 4,000 square feet. This intimacy challenged the team to reorganize and expand its existing program to consider function, microclimates, and visual interest potential, while maintaining the site’s innate tranquility. The garden would also need to communicate a studied balance of wildness and cultivation to effectively bridge the home’s existing traditional architecture with the log cabin’s rusticity and the dark, foreboding nature of the adjacent forest. Concurrent to these design considerations, the team needed to address construction challenges, including staging and sequencing, all limited to a narrow, one-way-in/one-way-out, twelve-foot-wide point of access, a situation compounded by the owner’s desire to fast track the project over the course of one winter in an environment that receives over 300 inches of annual snowfall.
The garden interprets the story of the surrounding natural landscape—rockfall, snowmelt streams, fluctuating water levels and pools, and perennial meadows—through a series of detailed and authentic portraits. Organized by two serpentine-like edges, the organic pool shape stitches together the site’s independent programs and transforms an underutilized lawn into a new recreational element. At the toe of the slope, monolithic boulders, precisely fitted together, cascade and dip beneath the water’s horizon. Outcroppings dictate water movement, creating coves and submerged ledges, and punctuating the water’s surface for moments of retreat. As a counterpoint, a second edge provides a horizontal plane of regionally-sourced cut sandstone connecting the home and terrace. Movable furnishings and a wood-burning firepit allow modifications to the space based upon gathering size and function. Along the cabin’s front porch, a cantilevered wooden dock offers shelter and surprise, functioning as a diving platform into the deep pool.
REDEFINING THE DESIGN PROCESS
The project’s innovative methodologies and outcomes demonstrate how 3D scanning, modeling, and printing can be integrated in a design process to generate precise physical representations of non-standard elements that enhance creative exploration, resolve installation issues, and artfully bridge the transfer of design ideas between the Landscape Architect’s vision, owner’s expectations, and the contractor’s needs.
The team began with a digital 3D model of key elements, including foundation walls, pool shell, existing terrain, and cabin. Next, a total of 55 large granite boulders, each weighing between 1-3 tons, as well as palettes of smaller slag rock, sourced with the intent of artfully arranging in thoughtful composition along the cascade and around the pool, were tagged with an identification number, documented using photogrammetry, and modeled using a proprietary Autodesk program to create accurate representations of each boulder’s unique shape, natural clefts, and granular texture. The base model and individual boulders were then printed at 1:10 scale, enabling the design team, owner, and contractor to explore a series of alternatives for design and construction. Although final construction documents summarized the general design direction, the physical model provided a guidance through construction. The resulting design aligns precisely with the owner’s original request to the landscape architect.
RESULTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR PROFESSION
- Innovation Through Art and Technology – Shadowrock exemplifies how new technologies can document and communicate design intent and construction strategy especially when working with costly irregular building materials that conventional drawings and specification methods fail to accurately capture. Gained efficiency fostered more time spent on creative decisions, with less time clarifying intent.
- Cost Savings – Prior to the boulder modeling, early construction estimates varied as much as 200% in subcontractor fabrication costs. As a result of OAC design sessions with the physical model, subcontractor bids leveled into comprehensive and accurate pricing proposals.
- Risk Management – Leaving subjectivity to the Landscape Architect can cause an Owner to feel unsure of the project and misunderstand the reality of the design vision, posing a risk to the professional relationship. Shadowrock’s process improved client design participation, ensuring expectations could be closely managed throughout the design process with minimal risk of poor design results.
- Construction Efficiency – The constrained site offered no space to lay out boulders for onsite review, guaranteeing that a traditional trial-and-error method would have been fraught with missed opportunities and poorly informed design decisions. Instead, an identification process enabled the contractor to store all boulders in an alternative location and transport material to the site in an orderly sequence, saving time, lowering cost, and reducing impact to the neighborhood.
Transferability – Beyond this example, the methodology represents a new way of communicating ideas, transferable to other non-standard construction materials beyond residential design. The process may be applied to a broad range of project types and scales, including the documentation and restoration of historical preservation works, the installation of site-specific or large-scale art commissions, the transfer of design ideas during stakeholder engagement, as well as the testing of locations and arrangements of specimen trees, long before breaking ground.
Arctic Fire Dogwood
Rocky Mtn. Columbine
Delphinium Black Knight
The Rocket Ragwort
Becky Shasta Daisy
Bee Balm – Blue
Peony, Double White
Rocky Mountain Penstemon
Salvia May Night
Dragon’s Blood Sedum
Mother of Thyme
Veronica Blue Speedwell
Native Grass Seed Mix
Pitkin County Wildflower Seed Mix
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):