Professor Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber, Lecturer, and Michael Davidsohn, Senior Lecturer, from the University of Massachusetts Architecture and Landscape Design Programs gave me a lesson in design. All three continue their practice as well as teaching. To teach me they invited me to a house in Amherst where Schreiber had designed and overseen completion of an addition to an 1890s house, and Thurber and Davidsohn built a new sustainable landscape.
Schreiber’s handsome design connected spaces in the original house with the addition, resulting in interior spaces that look larger, and that allow a wider view. “The goal is to live compactly, and yet expansively,” Schreiber said.
The exterior of Schreiber’s addition took into account of the slope of the property, and the need to manage rainfall from the roof.
The Town of Amherst has rules about how much impervious paving a house lot can have. Permeable surfaces are vital as we think about the environment, the need to refresh the aquifer, and to moderate heat. This house had a long wide paved driveway that ran from the street to the garage in back of the house and set in the middle of the lawn. Thurber and Davidsohn knew their first task was to remove about half of the driveway, including the paving that continued along one side of the garage.
Thurber and Davidsohn also used this site to hold a design studio for a dozen Umass students who came to view, to measure and come up with their own designs and models of the space, keeping in mind the attributes of the space, and requirements of the design. Such on-site projects are an important part of a student’s learning.
I understood the need to remove paving and admired the new entry to the backyard, a laid stone path, bordered by wide planting beds. More plants will be added to the bearberry ground cover. The young amelanchier trees (serviceberry) on the left side lead to a simple wood and wire fence designed and built by Davidsohn and Kevin Hartzel. Raised beds for blueberries and vegetables now run alongside the garage replacing the paving. A stone path was built to the garage door. Careful grading in front of the garage now keeps out rainwater.
A raised bed contained by a stone wall and planted with grasses hides the concrete foundation of the addition. A long stone path runs the width of the 60 foot yard with an expanded space for a patio.
A drainpipe from the roof of the addition has been designed to capture most of the rainfall from the roof. The drainpipe goes under the stonewall and stone path; water is released into a swale along this side of the garage. At the other end of the garage is a drainpipe that releases water into a continuation of the swale that goes across the yard where it meets a swale that handles water from a basement sump pump. Standing on the patio, looking over the lawn, there is little sense of a swale, just of interesting water loving plants that mark three edges of the grass lawn.
Thurber and I stood on the larger rectangle of the two strategically planted lawns and she explained, “We don’t talk about filling up space. We want to have edges.”
Davidsohn followed up saying, “There is always mass and void. We have to figure out where the spaces are. That’s important. We wanted to give the residents a sense of space.”
From the lawn we looked up towards the house. I could see that the intensity of the design was around the house. The aim was to make the garage in the lawn as invisible as possible.
I was trying to keep up with words like mass and void used in a new ways. I asked Davidsohn what he meant when he talked about the things he built. “What do you mean built,” I asked. “Do you mean you chose the stones and laid them out?”
He replied that was exactly what he meant. “Kevin Hartzel and I built the landscape. Kevin is a landscape contractor, with a two year certificate from Stockbridge. That’s how I started my career. As a landscape contractor. For this job I chose the stones, flat and round, and the two of us laid the stones, planted the plants, and dug the swales.”
I was fascinated to learn that Stockbridge began with two year programs 200 years ago, and continues to have a few certificate programs today.
Finally we went to the front of the house to see what was created there this past summer. Originally there was a narrow cement walkway to the street. You had to walk across the lawn when you parked in the driveway. Now there is a graceful three part stone path from the driveway to a large anchor stone in front of the porch steps and on to the other side of the house. The cement path was replaced by a continuation of the stone path. Jane Thurber and I looked at the path from the street. “It claims the house from the street, but it is also welcoming,” she said.
I was grateful for the chance to spend a morning with Schreiber, Thurber and Davidsohn, gaining insight into what it takes to create a design that is sustainable, practical and lovely.###
Between the Rows November 3, 2018