Honor Award

Oak Savanna Vineyards

Lutsko Associates Landscape, San Francisco, CA

Project Statement

A design intervention transforms a weed-choked irrigation pond into a favorite location for family gatherings and vineyard events. Two curved concrete walls redefine the water's edge, creating an adjacent social space. Extensive restoration of native grasses and careful design around the existing oaks creates ecological health and connections between the project landscape and surrounding hills. The landscape architect practiced restraint, using simple sculptural interventions to create a frame for a landscape restored to health and beauty.

Project Narrative

Two curved concrete walls are the focal point of the site and organizing elements of the gathering space. A break in the walls invites visitors onto a small intimate deck that hovers just above the water's surface. Set back from the curved concrete walls are a series of low local field stone walls that define a larger area capable of accommodating 200 guests. The low walls are connected by steps and pathways that lead guests to the exising house and vineyard parking area. Native California oaks and grasses surround the gathering space.

At the time of design, the vineyard at the 450 acre Oak Savanna property was a well-worn agricultural landscape on the edge of the wild canyons and steppes of the San Rafael Mountains. The residence at Oak Savanna had been built on a hilltop, avoiding connection to the properties agrarian landscapes. A history of cattle ranching had destroyed most of the native grasslands. A canyon had been damned to create a watering hole. When the cattle were removed from the ranch their watering hole was put use as an irrigation pond for the vineyards. Silt and weeds were choking the pond.

The landscape architect selected the pond site as the focus of the transformation. It would become a gathering place for vineyard events, parties and family events, representative of a new relationship to the land. The designers and owners were committed to two goals: creating ecological health and creating art in the landscape.

The site was used as a testing ground for future restoration projects on the property. The hillsides above the pond were planted with a variety of native grasses and wildflowers. Riparian tree species were planted at the water's edge. Native shrubs were planted on the north facing slopes. The shoreline beyond the gathering space was re-graded and planted to eliminate problems of sediment and nutrient accumulation from erosion, thus improving habitat for birds and amphibians.

The site remains a human landscape. The gathering place is located within a working vineyard, by the side of a dammed pond, over what once must have been a seasonal creek. The installation acknowledges this complex relationship. The defining concrete walls rise up above the surface of the water, dam-like in appearance. They portray infrastructure as a direct connection between people and nature. Within the context of restored ecological health, this conceptual piece suggests that a responsible role for infrastructure may allow it to once again become a monument of pride rather than a symbol of detrimental impacts on nature. The design exemplifies the power of simple design that heals the land while increasing opportunities for its use by people.


Project Resources

Lutsko Associates Design Team
Ron Lutsko Jr., Principal
Laura Jerrard, Project Manager

Structural Engineer
Stephen Perlof, Stephen Perlof Consulting Structural Engineers, Los Angeles, CA

Brad Alpers, Alpers Construction Company Santa Ynez, CA

Concrete Contractor
Mark Bates, Solvang, CA

Lighting Contractor
Lonnie Erickson, DL Electric

Tree Installation
Valley Gardener Co.

Grading Contractor
Mark Lopes

Tree Nursery
Valley Crest Tree Company

Plant Broker
Ken Kees, The Tree Source

Grass Supplier
John Anderson, Hedgerow Farms

Featured Products

Ironwood Sandstone and Sorrel Fieldstone
Maidenstone, Houston, TX

Desert Brown Crushed Stone and Pathway Fines
Lyngso Garden Materials

Valley Crest Tree Company

Hedgerow Farms

Site Plan (Rendering: Lutsko Associates)

Context Map: The site is a short walk from the residence.(Rendering: Lutsko Associates)

The design creates a favorite destination for large parties and intimate family gatherings alike. (Photo: Eric Scott Photography)

The pre-design site was a silted irrigation pond with over-grazed banks. (Photo: Lutsko Associates)

A simple design intervention of walls, paths and a floating dock are surrounded by restored oak grasslands. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

A break in the walls creates a landscape entry to the gathering space. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

The curved concrete wall shapes the new edge of the pond: on one side deep water for diving, on the other, a level space for gathering. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

Coastal live oaks with an understory of native grasses characterize the perimeter of the site. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

"Each gesture the landscape architect made engages the landscape in a pretty suave way. The walls are exquisite, adding a very sculptural quality and embracing the water."

2009 Professional Awards Jury

Once a denuded landscape, the pond's slopes have been restored with native Nasella and Melica grass species. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

Riparian species occupy the transition zone between pond and grassland and create edge habitat. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

Stacked walls of local stone use vernacular building techniques of the region. (Marion Brenner Photography)

The stone stairway was inserted into the hillside, leaving grade undisturbed between two oaks. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

The dock is a favorite location for intimate gatherings. (Photo: Marion Brenner Photography)

The site's flexibility accommodates large gatherings like this Fourth of July celebration. (Photo: Eric Scott Photography)

(Photo: Eric Scott Photography)