Before & After

'A' Street House
Phoenix, Arizona

In the US, residential lots have a required setback for the house which is meant to create a continuous open landscape space along the city streets. Subdivisions are massed graded at development and all existing vegetation is scraped off and the buyer gets a bare-bones minimal landscape. This seems to be workable in more affluent neighborhoods where the homeowners can afford to landscape and maintain this area. Unfortunately the front yard is often an unused and wasted space with minimal or no landscape.

When I first started out as an unlicensed outlaw student designer there was a common landscape style called “Desert Landscaping” which I called “gardens of despair”. It consisted of a few strategically positioned cacti with a gravel ground cover.

In the 50’s and 60’s colored gravel was quite popular. Before artificial turf there was green painted gravel (I’m not making this up), I used to tell people they would get much better use out of the front yard if they would plant corn or tomatoes.

This is one of my projects where I have tried to take control of the entire front yard and make it a livable outdoor room. Unfortunately most cities will not allow any structures higher than 3 feet tall in this “required” front yard, which does nothing for privacy.

In this project we have a 3 foot tall planter at the property line which will have 3 feet of plants on top of it for privacy. I’m basically antisocial and I don’t want to see the street or the neighbor’s houses. I want the outside to feel like it is an extension of the interior spaces.

The building setback line aligns all the houses at a specific distance from the street. I think one of my skills is finding what I call zoning loopholes, things that are legal but little known and that can be manipulated to get more usable space or privacy in a residence.
In this project the shade structure that encroaches into the restricted front yard space. The client sandblasted the paint off of his house and wanted to update it with a more modern look and utilize the front yard as a courtyard.

After a few rough concept sketches we developed the designs in sketch-up. The main element is the patio and the steel shade structure. I like to use off the shelf industrial materials when I can. The roof material is industrial fiberglass grating made for floors and walkways in corrosive environments. It’s 1 ½ inches thick with 1 ½ square openings and it comes in about 8 colors.

The client was very resourceful and found these panels from a manufacturer who wanted to get rid of them and he was able to buy them at a great discount.

This client decide to design the landscape and select the colors himself so that’s why the project looks so different from my concept.

Arid Zone Trees
Queen Creek, Arizona
Phase I, 1985

The client, a large-scale farmer, was developing a new tree farm that specialized in desert trees on a section of their land. He asked me to design an entry gate for the future office building.

The land, being perfectly flat and treeless, was extremely difficult for me to get started on. My design work had always been based on solving site problems, the more difficult the site the easier it was to get started. Site problems give you a starting point. Here I didn’t have any problems to solve. Then I realized that my solution would be totally arbitrary.

I have been a long time admirer of the Luis Barragan and since this garden could be whatever I wanted, I decided to make it my “Homage to Barragan’ and get it out of my system. (Little did I know that from then to the present clients would want to have a 'Barragan red wall' in their projects)

I had a feeling that this could be much more than just an entry gate. It would also be a demonstration garden for ‘Desert Landscaping,’ a concept that had a lot of resistance from the nursery industry and the public at the time.

It took me about three years of thinking about this entry before I had a concept sketch I wanted to show the owner who said if I didn’t show him something soon, he would go to someone else.

The entry project received a national ASLA honor award and later Phase II, which was the office building, received a second national ASLA Design award.

This is a classic example of making a project your own. The client was happy that I gave him what he needed and was pleased with the press and awards it received. The garden was published in the French edition of Architectural Digest and other shelter magazines which is very unusual for a commercial project.

Another lesson is that it is possible for a small project to receive the top design awards.

Entry Features, 1985

Entry Features, 1992

Steel pipes mimic irrigation rows beyond.

Editorial in Landscape Architecture Magazine

One of two outdoor classrooms.

Pedregal Gardens, Mexico. Luis Barragan, 1945.
Satellite City, Mexico. Luis Barragan, 1957.

Fanfol Road Residence
Paradise Valley, Arizona

Before: This house had a large blank yard which was enclosed by a six foot tall white wall. Four neighbors houses were visible over the wall. The house next door was prominent in the view from the house and was something that needed mitigation. 

After: The fireplace wall was placed to screen the view of the adjacent house view and provide a new backdrop to the activity on the new raised deck next to the new raised pool.

The project had a modest budget to provide all the items the owner required. This construction montage shows the sequence of construction. 

First, the screen wall with the fireplace was built. 

The pool was dug shallow in order to have the finish deck above the ground level.

The concrete formwork for the raised pool was installed. The pool wall was raised to function as a bench on the house side.

The concrete was shot for the pool and the formwork was placed for the raised deck at the fireplace and the house side of the pool. To save money the back two sides of the pool were left exposed.

Color, fountain and trees were added to finish the design. The pool has a mock-negative edge on two sides to bring the water as close to the plants as possible. The white fence was painted black to make it less visible.

Hillside Residence
La Jolla, California

Back Yard

This unique hillside lot had great panoramic views of downtown San Diego, Mission Beach and the Pacific Ocean.

The house was a drastic remodel that included a total make-over of the site. The city would not let us alter any of the existing retaining walls which made the project more difficult. 

The clients had five young children and wanted to maximize the outdoor space. We created a level lawn area by lowering the grade at the house and raising it at the retaining walls. The pool was pushed to the ocean side of the yard and the deck was cantilevered over an existing 12 foot high retaining wall to capture extra space.

Old pool and deck to be removed
Sloping yard to be leveled.
New pool and dining terrace beyond.

I created a new dining area off the living room with a view to the Pacific Ocean.

The view from outdoor dining area.

Front Entry

The house sat 10 feet above the street and the original entry was a path up the hill to the door. A new addition brought the front of the house out to the street and we created a new entryway with monument stairs and planters. 

House during remodel.

A new entryway was constructed at the second floor level.

Grand stairs up to the entry.

St. Helena Farmhouse
St. Helena, California

This was a 125 year old Victorian house that was extremely close to the highway. At the time it was built this made sense because the road was used by horse carts.  This road has turned into a busy highway. The entry to the house was switched to the south side, which was formerly the back of the house.

Architect Obie Bowman designed the new Victorian wrap around porch and roof to blend with the architectural style of the house.

Existing condition showing a small stoop in the middle of the house.

The new porch and roof has been added and the old lawn and hedge has been removed

After a long search we found an orchard of 125 year old olive trees that were added to frame the swimming pool.

A old fashioned rectangular swimming pool was centered on the house and visually led to the vineyards beyond.

To complete the period look the marble tiled pool had ladders rather than steps and no deck.

Ocotillo Road House
Phoenix, Arizona

The clients had a modernist house set against a hillside.  The client wanted a place to show off their two outdoor sculptures that had been storage since they bought them. They also wanted more livable space for entertaining, the current yard was limited by retaining walls.

My solution to enlarging the space was to expand it horizontally along the same contour lines as the house without requiring any additional cutting into the hill, which is expensive.

The existing planter around the column was the edge of the first of two existing terraces I removed.

The retaining wall and planter were removed which creates a patio off the master bedroom.
A new water feature was added which is aligned with the entry of the house and the blue ceramic sculpture.

Cover of U.K. Design Journal. 

The existing view of the future fireplace terrace.

Fireplace terrace 

This project was published in the September 2011 edition of Zielen Miejska, a Polish Landscape Architecture Journal. 

Arizona Falls 
Phoenix, Arizona

         Arizona Falls, formed by a man made 20 foot drop on the Arizona Canal, was located between what is now 56th and 58th streets. This picture of the falls was taking in 1890.

     Utilizing the flowing water of the canal to produce power, Arizona Falls was also the site of the first hydroelectric plant in Phoenix. Originally built in 1902, the plant was rebuilt by SRP in 1911, began delivering power again in 1913 and was eventually shut down in 1950.


Arizona Falls generates up to 750 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity, which can power up to 150 homes. This public art project was a design collaboration with myself and Lajos Heder and Mags Harries, artists from Boston. 

The waterfall was hidden in a structure that was fenced off and secured from the public. The program was to reuse the site as a public amenity, the utility company was having its 100th anniversary and they selected this as their showcase project. 

They recommissioned the site to create hydro-electric power using a highly efficient modern generator. This only required 50% of the available water that flowed through the falls which gave the artist team half of the water to use in their water features. The result is one of the largest gravity fed water features since the Renaissance.