Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Oraf

Landscape Designer of the Year 2008: space2place Design

Landscape designers space2place carve a modern niche in the natural order of things.

Your eye pans the robust, confident angles of a Jeff Cutler landscape like a camera setting up the opening scene of a David Lynch movie: everything’s quiet but you sense that something exciting is going on under the surface. It is. Cutler’s Vancouver landscape architecture firm, space2place, calls upon the power of the modernist design process to reveal “the essential character of a place.” It creates a look for private and public outdoor spaces that combines a frank use of modern materials with light, natural-looking plantings and coherently integrated places for people.

Proof of space2place’s inimitable approach: over the past year, residential clients have been flocking to them—even before architects design the house. The firm has earned national recognition for its Sustainability Street showcase at UBC in Vancouver, leading to prominent local projects (the City of North Vancouver Spirit Trail, the Oppenheimer Park re-design) that will put them on short lists for large commissions across North America. The shop has grown from four to seven members since 2007. “We are a young firm,” says Cutler, 37. “We’re not as conservative as some that are more established and we’ve shown that there’s a need for a contemporary approach.”

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Slippery slope: The firm overcame this steeply pitched site with varying levels of concrete steps and walls. The lap pool’s retaining wall doubles as a seating place, while also helping to better integrate the pool into the site.

 

The space2place design process starts with the client and the site. “We don’t go into a project thinking that it must be done in a certain style, say, that this will be an English country garden.” The philosophy of Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen inspires Cutler to approach each new problem without preconceptions. He starts with a loose concept on paper, gradually refining the plans with consultants and a team that includes computer specialists, a landscape ecologist and a construction manager.

Concrete is currently a favourite material in space2place’s residential projects—due partly to affinity and partly to coincidence. Cutler likes its flexibility and how it “plays with the tension between architecture and nature”; he also finds concrete useful for joining a house with its site to expand outdoor living areas. The coincidence stems from an early project, the Metro skateboard park in Burnaby, which used local EcoSmart concrete. Space2place developed expertise with modern concrete technology that has come into play on the precipitously sloped residential sites that are now a firm trademark.

This sort of collaboration has resulted in built projects that live up to the promise of the early plans. Judge Jim Hole noted that the work considered had a “high degree of technical proficiency,” while judge Cornelia Hahn Oberlander praised the “aesthetically pleasing and well-built technical solutions.” Fellow judge Ron Rule was impressed that on projects big and small, “quality and creativity remain high on all fronts.”
Cutler likes to talk about the importance of respecting a site and celebrating its natural patterns and processes. He makes it sound simple, as if landscape architecture were nothing more than clearing away the dust and exposing what lies hidden. It’s an approach that any David Lynch fan can appreciate—and one at which space2place is just as brilliantly adept. –WL

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