Reading the Landscape / by Beverly Eichenlaub

Our mission here today is to determine which trees positively contribute to the making of this place, and which do not. We are executing a strategy for selective clearing of this land as a means to curate the character of the daylight.

This act of clearing is taking place long after our initial engagement with this site. Our first move on a residential project is to investigate the site, to discover its essential character. We take care to work within the context of what exists - the natural topography, vegetation, views, solar orientation.  We draw inspiration from our discoveries and make form in a manner that celebrates this context. In the case of XuXi House, the essential character of this site is wooded, oriented eastward toward a mountain view and sunrise.  This orientation is reinforced by a gentle bowl in the earth - the amphitheatre - edged by a fieldstone wall.  After several months of design, we are about to break ground.

We walk the site, and observe:  crisp autumn air, golden afternoon light, tall trees casting long shadows on the painted forest floor. We observe the beginnings of the winter landscape, where the light asserts itself, seeping into the new space opened by the recent retreat of leaves. We are reading the landscape.  

The existing vegetation is primarily a mix of maple, birch and white pine - too many white pine.  The pine in the amphitheater we target for removal, as these evergreens tower over the site and choke out the light year round.  We tag the pines in red for cutting as we tag the sapling birches and maples in green - a request for the site crew to work around them, to keep them intact. We hatch a plan to bring more birch and maple into the amphitheater, to soften the summer sky with dappled shadows.