Sculptural Ando-Inspired Back Garden

"...Its far from just San Francisco's Bay that has all the attention when you sit up on the cosy terrace..."

If ever you needed a final nudge to transform your inspiration into reality, SATORI & SCOUT feel this back garden example may just be it; too often do people take the assumption that architect’s ideas and services are too expensive, too ambitious for most builders, or take extreme skill to realise. Mary Barensfeld, a 34-year-old architect that lives in San Francisco, is particularly inspired by the Bay Area’s annual gardens, and decided that not just any back garden will do for her first client, even for a reasonable fee.

An architect with a degree previously in landscape design, Barensfeld comments “…because I don’t think architecture stops with a building…architecture and landscape should meld into one design process.” For a young family living in Berkeley Hills, their 1,150 sq ft garden helps to elegantly transition between the couple’s 1964 Japanese-style town house to an elevated and cosy terrace that has superbly expansive views of the exciting San Francisco Bay. As you can tell from the photographs, the garden certainly looks as impressive as it sounds appealing

With a bold tectonic design that includes high-quality decking, granite stone patios, a slender reflecting pool and a terraced hillside landscape, the back garden is certainly a stark contrast to the more common shed and grass lawn. Using materials that are intended to weather, orange cor-ten steel is a contemporary architect’s favourite, whilst the angular terracing tries to mimic a landscape’s contours, both combining to create this intended effect of a fabricated natural setting. Without any staircase to reach their cosy viewing terrace, the concrete walls have been designed to dually act as ramps as much as they are hillside retaining walls, and due to San Francisco being highly seismically active with the San Andreas Fault, the garden features hidden stabilising beams to achieve its design. With inspiration from Japanese architect Tadao Ando whose Brutalist architecture is often complemented with natural gardens, aspects of his designs echo everywhere in this back garden. Everything just kind of works…very well.

Wanting to make the garden feel bigger than its enclosure actually is, Barensfeld employed techniques that she learnt from her Japanese observational trips, using pools to reflect the sky and particular treetypes that feel light in weight but dense in form, both characteristics that add depth to the garden’s composition. With sculptural trees planted and the hole-pierced wall acting as a visual framing tactic, the garden sees a continual change in shade pattern throughout the year, and we are told that its far from just San Francisco’s Bay that gets all the attention when you sit up on the cosy terrace!

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Mary Barensfeld

With roots in modernist architecture and landscape, Barensfeld specialises in the fusion of interior and exterior spaces, and was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

(Photography Credit :

9.5 Design
8 Originality
7 Culturality
9.5 Context

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