Garden Case Study: Towers Road Residence

The best gardens are those that speak to the the nature of the land they sit on and the architecture they surround, at the same time inviting poetry and energy into the mix. Landscape architecture firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean are masters of the balancing act between place and poetry. One of their latest residential projects in Toorak, Melbourne, encapsulates this beautifully. Towers Road Residence is, as studio principal of TCL Lisa Howard suggests, is a “poetic garden of structured chaos”. We caught up with her to find out more about this striking garden and the evolution of it’s design.

About the project:
Location: Toorak, Victoria
Architect: Wood Marsh Architects
Size: 2,300m2
Date Completed: 2016
Scope of Work: Design, documentation and partial construction services

What was the client’s brief? There was no predefined brief for this project, rather, it evolved via a series of conversations with the client. Through our discussions ideas emerged, such as ‘controlled bedlam’ and a sense of focusing inwards, with glimpses outward; that the landscape could be ‘cocooning’.  The client desired a ‘poetic garden, a garden of structured chaos’.  That notion is really wonderful – and we were excited to explore what that meant from an elemental design perspective, and also as a planting palette.  The design became about designing into key views from the house, as well as strategically obscuring parts of the garden, creating a sense of endlessness of the garden.

From a pragmatic side of things, the site was surrounded by tennis courts of neighbouring blocks, and it was very important that once inside this established garden, there was privacy and seclusion so as to not notice the adjacencies.  The client was keen to cater for their growing children, so they would have places of exploration, play and then respite/retreat with friends as they got older.

You’ve described the space as a “poetic garden, a garden of structured chaos.” What do you mean by this and how does this translate into design decisions and direction? The notion of the ‘poetic garden’ and ‘structured chaos’ relates to the way the garden can be graceful and expressive – the planting has a softness and layering, but is not formally arranged. The design was not a formal layout – paths meander and the majority of the garden beds are filled with plant mixes – contrasting textures, tones and perennial displays of colour.

The design only reveals parts of the garden from any place within – never giving away too much.  It was about discovery – being able to wander off into the garden and find a secret seating spot.”

Can you explain the connection between the architecture of the house and the landscape? How do they speak to each other? We worked closely with Roger, Randall and the client to balance the strength of the building form with adjacent landscape.  This was particularly important for the street frontage of the house – we built physical scaled models in which to test design options for the grass mounding of the front, and tested different plant species to soften the entry experience.

The final design of the façade reflects grass mounding to either side of the entrance, framed by the strong architectural ‘wings’ of the building; a veil of silver birches creates a delicate foil across the façade, highlighting seasonal changes, and creating shadow play across the concrete.  In some areas it feels as though the building is a protector to the garden, holding and shielding a delicate landscape within its arching walls; in other areas, it is like the garden has sprouted up from underneath the building, defying the massive form.

Gardens are places of connection and disconnection – there needs to be a sense of place, a connection to the surrounding landscape, but equally as importantly, a garden needs to feel secluded, separate, safe. How do you address this tension in your residential design projects? Towers Road is an interesting example of this, where the connection to the surrounding is captured via glimpses of what is behind the layers.  The garden has many separate spaces, they are connected by elements – like the arbour, that give the idea of a connection to a broader idea, or a continuation, but you can’t see the whole.

How do the selected plants, materials, and design elements tell the story of the garden? The garden is designed to lead the occupant on a journey – the layout allows for distinct and different experiences throughout the garden, connected via materiality and creation of views/glimpses to the next part of the garden.

Can you please tell us a little about the planting design? What plants did you select to use in the garden and why? The planting design differentiates the spatial arrangements of the garden – each space has a different ‘flavour’ and is tied together by a dominant tree species or shrubs.

Key plants have been chosen to structure the garden – for example the waterhousia hedges that border the site to create a frame and backdrop for the rest of the garden.  A layer of camelias and magnolias are the ‘structural plantings’ for around the lower areas of the garden and into the ‘Wild Garden’.  Beneath these a wide range of low cover plantings create textural and seasonal difference.  A view is framed to display a copse of Japanese maples; the southern boundary is obscured by bamboo – tree ferns emerge from between stone steppers and seats, creating a verdant, secretive and gully like experience.

What materials did you select to use in the garden, and why? We selected raw, tactile materials in many parts of the garden – stone and steel. Stone is used in various forms – rough, tumbled and cut, huge boulders, and detailed setts – dependent on the application.  A dark granite paving is primarily used throughout the garden – this was chosen for the tone and texture of the stone.

The building is off-form concrete, so it was important to choose a material that would complement and not compete with the materiality of the building.”

What do you think is the most successful part of this garden? One of my favourite parts of the garden is the fernery.  The glimpse of the fernery from inside the house hints at a luxurious, retreat style garden – the bright, fresh greens of the bamboos and ferns create a feeling of calm relaxation.  The experience of entering that space from the outside is breathtaking, the sense of immersion into this gully like garden – the contrast of tiny dichondra spilling out between the stepping stones, and the vast towering forms of the bamboo above. It is complete seclusion, and respite from the world around.

To find out more about Towers Road Residence or other projects by T.C.L visit their WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM or read an interview with T.C.L principal Kate Cullity on TPH here.

All images by John Gollings and supplied by T.C.L.