DS+R: Ecological Stepping Stones

Hollywood Hills

Diller Scofidio + Renfro


The landscape plan captures the creative potential of the region’s climate and ecology. It builds upon the native vegetation of Chaparral and Coastal Sage Brush to re-establish the site’s biodiversity and promote resilience to drought and fire. It also introduces robust verdant orchards and gardens and, consequently, a variety of micro-climates and atmospheres around the houses.

The site is stitched together with paths and trails that connect the houses through terraced orchards, switchbacks, and habitat corridors. Across the site, the many outdoor atmospheres provide comfort and stimulation for guests in the throes of creative production, both in collaborative exchange and in focused solitary endeavor.

Landscape terraces expand to form courtyards, which spill into the houses offering lush green oases that are shaded from the sun. Meanwhile, uphill breezes flow through these spaces and over evaporative pools adding comfort through passive cooling and ventilation. At each of the houses, aromatic gardens scent the air, carried by afternoon and evening breezes. Edible gardens provide seasonal produce for the immediate Annapurna community to enjoy. The cultivated wilderness blends habitat islands and threads of green into the native landscape. Select areas are sustainably cultivated in relation to topography, program, views, hydrology of the site, and sun exposure. The intent is to enjoy a lush landscape closer to the touch with minimal maintenance across the site.

Lacing the Panoramahouse and linking the three lower houses are lush pathways that provide additional privacy. They harvest and store the site’s entire watershed in order to sustain irrigation demands throughout the year. Connecting the houses are: a terraced orchard on the southern slope that provides a structured way to move under shade during the day and sit outside for stargazing at night; a switchback trail to the east cutting through the natural water basin stabilized with oak shrub and offering a place for Venice to run and find shelter during the hot afternoons near the waterhole; and to the west, a restored Chaparral and Coastal Sage Shrub biodiversity preserve, offering a private hiking path and areas for camping and spotting larger stepping stone species.

Invite, Observe, Document

The site’s 8 acres lie just inside the eastern edge of the greater Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Zone, a wildly diverse and enormous habitat corridor that remains contiguous enough for mountain lions to be seen in the Hollywood Hills. Griffith Park and Trebek Open Space Park are biodiversity hot spots that extend the habitat corridor of the Conservancy Zone farther east of the site.

The design intent is for the 8 acres to provide a series of native landscape pockets that will act as ecological stepping stones and connect a habitat corridor between the Conservancy Zone and Parks for creatures as large as the bobcat and peregrine falcon and as small as the silvery blue butterfly and wrentit. Trails, lookouts, and eco-pocket landscapes will restore the richness of the Chaparral landscape and replace the invasive grasses that dominate the site and are a high fire risk.

A ‘Hemingway’ lookout point and a critter cam at the ‘watering hole’ will offer the ability to observe and document the vitality of these nocturnal landscapes, alive with big cats, owls, and bats. A bird observation area would showcase the drama of native species such as the loggerhead shrike impaling a lizard or the mischievous cactus wren’s striped and speckled feathers. Lastly, architectural succulents will blend and transition from the restored environments to the surrounding landscape matrix.

Generate, Cool, Breathe

The Los Angeles region has over 200 days of sun a year. This unique quality will not only be harnessed through solar cell technologies, but also through passive measures that can energize a space.

Terraces, courtyards and pools bathed in sun are lined with aromatic species of plants that provide each space and house with its own signature scent. Fragrances vary from spicy or sultry -such as white sage or artemesia- to floral and sweet -such as jasmine or citrus blossom. Aromatic gardens will be planted along pedestrian paths at varying elevations to create breezeways through the site and extra heat from the houses. Many of these fragrant species in the breezeway will attract future pollinators such as the silvery blue butterfly to ensure resilience and build upon the existing biodiversity.

The infinity and evaporative cooling pools integrate thermal solar cells under a thin layer of water to increase energy production by ~9%, but more importantly to infuse these technologies into the space unnoticed to the eye. The sun’s energy is then used to facilitate hot water pre-heating demand of programmed spaces to reduce the overall energy consumption of the campus.

Collect, Saturate, Re-use

In developing a path to sustainability, water is the most critical resource to manage in California. The region is water scarce and the public water infrastructure system is the largest consumer of electricity in the State. The site strategy develops an open loop system that collects, stores, re-uses and treats water through various gravity feed, no-energy distribution networks. The proposed system reduces water consumption by over 50% and will be a positive participant in restoring the health of the Santa Monica Bay watershed. Storm water is harvested from roofs and hardscapes into cisterns and conveyed through bio-swales to water flourishing gardens that frame, enhance and protect the built environment with fire-resistant vegetation. These lush garden envelopes will produce a variety of atmospheres, inviting and sheltering native birds and butterflies. For example, Mexican Elderberry is a shrub with fragrant white flowers and electric blue berries that attracts songbirds, and may also be used in a natural dye and in an immune-boosting tea.

Terrace, Grow, Eat

On average 190,000 gallons of water will be harvested and stored on site throughout the year. With this water supply, approximately 5,000 sq ft of terraced gardens and orchards are planned without the use of supplemental city water. Composting and aquaponics on site will help create closed loop systems that cycle water and nutrients more efficiently. The orchards and switchbacks are strategically placed as erosion control measures with accessible trails of 15% slope or less that loop from high ground to low ground facilitating activities such as hiking, riding, or star gazing. The orchards will yield a range of food options from avocados to olives. There is a rich potential to grow a diversity of food year round in a city with over 200 days of sunshine a year and a Mediterranean climate. Taking pleasure in the process of growing, cooking, eating, and sharing meals is at the heart of the local slow food movement. Gardens may also be specialized for energizing or entertaining, such as a medicinal herb garden or salsa garden. A movable “chicken tractor” will be rotated through gardens to keep pests down and add fertility to the soil, while also producing fresh eggs perennially available.