Studio Profile: Terremoto

Terremoto is a landscape architecture office based in California, owned by David Godshall and Alain Peauroi. Their work explores the nature of the relationship between built and natural forms and is always underpinned with a strong conceptual and intellectual foundation. They believe physical form should be the manifestation of ideas and conversations, not trends and styles. Sound like my kind of folk! Read on for an entertaining and inspiring interview with Terremoto principal David Godshall.

Please tell us about Terremoto?
Alain Peauroi and I started Terremoto exactly 18 months ago.  We had previously worked together, and after very little thinking impulsively decided to start our own office. It wasn’t thought out particularly well, other than we both knew we wanted to work together and that we seemed like good foils to one another, in a business and creative sense.

Adding to the chaos, I was also in the process of moving from The Bay Area to Los Angeles, so we simply decided we should practice in both locales (Northern and Southern California), which we do.  We go back and forth quite a bit (it’s about a 6 hour drive) but at this point work is so intense we both look forward to the quiet interlude of the drive….it’s oddly therapeutic for both of us, and it gives Alain some time alone to listen to his intense techno music.  We have one full time employee, Diego Lopez, who is the best, and we have several builder type of guys who essentially work for us full time now.

What does a typical day at Terremoto involve for you?
We’re a young scrappy office, so there’s no typical day.  Maybe Diego drives out early to Joshua Tree to tag crazy cacti for a project, Alain is in Healdsburg dealing with building a giant swing in the middle of a forest, and I’m at the office with the dogs, chillaxing, feet on the desk, drinking coffee and reading the paper.  That’s a joke – I don’t know the last time I relaxed. I’m more likely to be dealing with a client drama, visiting a project under construction, taking pictures of guys moving boulders or something random like that.

How would you describe your work? What’s your design philosophy?
We started our office because we believe there’s a glaring void in the United States for landscape architectural work that has a conceptual or intellectual basis. It sounds fancy but it’s not.

We believe that physical form should be the manifestation of ideas and conversation. The way we apply materials, horticulture, and geometry (or lack thereof) to a site should be guided by a grounding concept that we can push back on as we design and build.

In one project we might be layering and manipulating horticultural conventions; in another situation maybe a small budget has driven us to build the entire project from 2” x 4” pieces of wood and we’re pushing that unit as far as we can take it; in another instance maybe we’re allowing the site drainage to inform the geometry of a concrete slab, so a pattern that’s typically relegated to the sub-grade can read on the surface.  Stuff like that.

Forcing ourselves to have these dialogues, whether internally or with the client (it depends), has allowed our work to go to some really freaky, unpredictable places, so we’re sticking with it!

We’re also quietly critical regionalists- we believe landscapes should be composed of materials from nearby sources.  We see redwood trees when we drive around California- so we choose redwood over teak when building with wood- that sort of logic seems pretty clear to us. We try to prioritize creating landscapes that reflect energy and resource efficiency, though we don’t scream about it. We like to let things be what they are, age how they shall, we like wabi-sabi, concrete without color, weathered wood (no stain) and wrinkles. We don’t apply to any conventional formal system- we’re not modernists, we’re not classicists… We actually like to sample from everything; Post-Internet, everything is up for grabs.

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
The site is everything, so usually we all visit the site together first and talk with the client and then internally as an office. We sketch and talk, sketch and talk. The sketch leads to a proper design presentation, after which we make tweaks based on client feedback. And then it’s construction documents and construction administration. Again, we’re a young office so many of our projects are small, meaning we’re on site constantly, obsessing over details, talking to the builders, sourcing and placing plants etc.

Alain Peauroi
David Godshall

 Tell us about one project you really enjoyed?
We have an ongoing long-term project in rural Sonoma County that’s in the middle of a breathtaking Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) forest. We’re working with Envelope A+D, a fantastic Bay Area architecture office, and they’re building these amazing tent cabins that float in the canopy of the trees. We’re creating pathway systems that connect the various bunks, and we’re custom ordering absolutely huge pieces of clear heart redwood, 20” wide and 4” thick, for the paths. The lumber comes from trees that have had to come down for other reasons, so in a sense we’re re-purposing it. Now we’re about to start creating interventions within the forest, like a huge swing, sited so you fly between the trees.

It’s also been a total ass-kicker of a project, in that we discovered it’s very, very difficult to landscape (in any traditional sense at least) in the middle of a forest.  When the context of a project is within an urban environment, you can operate with these huge assumptions and take so much for granted- but when you’re out in nature, you are at the mercy of the beast, man!

It’s anarchy in the woods! Boars eat our irrigation equipment, there’s no dictating drainage on a forest floor, and it’s idiotic to try and plant a little box tree next to a breath-taking mature Oak. The woods and the context have really put us in our place a few times, but we’re getting tougher we think.

What is one lesson you have learnt since starting Terremoto?
Talk about money immediately with clients – it’s painful but it can save so much time to just be up front. It’s a little sad, but budgets dictate everything. A lot of people think landscape is cheap, and it’s not.

What are you passionate about?
Pizza parties and prickly pear.

What other designers/architects/creative people/firms are you inspired by at the moment?
This list could go on forever so this is just a random flow:

Gilles Clement, Gunther Vogt, Terunobu Fuijmori, Derek Jarman, John Greenlee, Young Thug, Azuma Makoto, Michael Hough, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Erik Dhont, The Halprins, early Hargreaves, Mutabilis Paysage, Teresa Moller, Migos, Burle Marx, RO/LU, Waka Waka, Scarpa, Scott Burton, Max Lamb, Heizer, Judd, Cedric Price, Dan Lissvik

What inspires you?
The guys who actually build our projects.  The dudes moving the boulders, digging the trenches, getting the trees in the earth.

What media resources do you look to for inspiration?

What is your dream project?
A big public project with a tiny budget and a client who is willing to take risks and do something wild.  That’s a recipe for coming up with something crazy and amazing. Sometimes a small budget opens up a dialogue that leads to new and interesting results.

If you had to make a garden with three plants, what would they be?
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), and Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia).

If you were a plant, what would you be?
People tell me I have a very Metasequoia glyptostroboides way about myself.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
From everything I’ve gleaned from your website and other landscape / garden websites, it seems like there’s a really vibrant garden and landscape scene and culture going on in Australia right now.  I’m jealous!  We have some catching up to do in America.

Check out Terremoto’s WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM