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Multi Layered Japanese Style Garden and Sitting Area

San Francisco’s Mary Barensfeld Architecture was familiar with the ups and downs of sloping sites, so to speak, which is why they did so well with this hillside garden design here in Berkeley, California. The program called for an outdoor living and lounging area, with a seat at the very top of the slope to take in the view. Tucked between townhomes in this dense urban locale, Hilgard Garden is a veritable retreat of privacy, lush plantings, a lots of layers. Inspired by a Japanese sculpture park, the garden takes shape as five stepped platforms, cascading down to the base of the volume. In the very pit of the garden, a white granite patio and reflecting pool are, ironically, the height of this alfresco living space.

The garden features a mix or earthy materials, concrete retaining walls, topped with wood decks and built-in seating, and enclosed in weathered steep privacy panels featuring water-jet-cut patterns peeking out over the bamboo garden on the other side. The wood deck is built around an existing tree, incorporating raw nature in a refined way.
The view from above reveals each perfectly manicured garden level. By night, integrated backlighting reveals artfully illuminated slashes in the steel panels, reflected in the waters of the pool at the bottom level.
We love the way the white granite deck come up seamlessly against the reflecting pool’s glassy surface. This private, intimate sitting is an extension of the indoors, clearly visible through the interior living area.
We love the combination of the draped, leafy plantings against a backdrop of rusted, perforated steel was a wild look and feel.
Talk about being on top of the world! This sweet, solitary seat at the highest point of this slope-side garden offers a view of this intricate, intimate garden, surrounding area, and the San Fran skyline.
“A meandering ramp through aromatic groundcover and the limbs of three Japanese maples presents itself as a garden path in a Zen-like retreat,” according to the architect. “To avoid swallowing large swathes of the backyard square footage with a conventional stair, angular, board-form concrete walls with occasional steel armor slice their way up the hill while providing terraced planting areas.”
Mary Barensfeld Architecture


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