Garden Geometries: Point by Nicole Bemboom

By Vera Gates

Sketch by Vera Gates

Sketch by Vera Gates

We begin the design process simply, as a study of point and line. This allows us to calibrate the site, the architecture and our design intentions as we get our bearings. Pretty quickly the design evolves and expands into other forms, in direct response to this early exploration.


We use point to identify key factors: entry, cross axis, destination and legacy trees. We use line to create connection, identify key site lines, and provide movement. We will talk about line in our next post. Today, we want to talk about point.

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

At its most basic, point is the starting place for all geometric forms. In plan, the point represents where things touch and connect to the earth, and it is so often best expressed as it arises into vertical form. Point represents a placeholder, which will eventually become something significant, such as a great tree, fountain or sculpture.


A point can locate the origin from which a circle is struck, the tangent from which a spiral unfurls or the junction where two lines intersect.

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

Always, it represents something with some degree of meaning. And part of the design process is weighting these points with greater and lesser importance.

Literary Inspiration  by Arterra Landscape Architects. Photo by  Marion Brenner

Literary Inspiration by Arterra Landscape Architects. Photo by Marion Brenner

Literary Inspiration   by Arterra Landscape Architects.  Photo by Rebecca Ford

Literary Inspiration by Arterra Landscape Architects. Photo by Rebecca Ford

The point also expands to celebrate those moments of the site we feel are, or could be, significant. Point symbolically represents the heart center and a well-executed design often features that spirit center in a comprehensible way. When we are in such a space, we recognize it as a significant, central place.


Point can also be repeated to create a pattern, either vertically or horizontally. We don’t use this too much, but it’s a fun option.

Master Plan By Arterra Landscape Architects

Master Plan By Arterra Landscape Architects

It often represents a focal point or destination, that for which you have journeyed to see.

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

Literary Inspiration   by Arterra Landscape Architects.  Photo by  Marion Brenner

Literary Inspiration by Arterra Landscape Architects. Photo by Marion Brenner

We'd like to thank Sculpturesite for letting us share work from their featured artist, Ivan McLean.

For more inspiration, we'd highly recommend visiting their website or gallery in Glen Ellen. Also, stay tuned for Vera's sculpture guest curation!


Garden Geometries by Vera Gates

Designing gardens inspired by geometry and mathematical formulas

By Vera Gates

Conceptual Sketch by Vera Gates

Conceptual Sketch by Vera Gates

Within the Arterra Studio, we are engaged in an active dialog around the design process, and how ideas evolve. Emerging designers want very much to expand their reach and delve more deeply into design. They are comfortable responding to functional requirements, but struggle with form generation, especially the “big picture” ideas that give a place great meaning.

This has challenged us to explain how we create design form and how we guide these forms as they evolve into a beautiful, functional garden. We thought this a good time to take a look at our archive of master plans, which so eloquently convey our design methodology and demonstrate the generative power of geometry as a design tool.

As an artist and landscape architect, I am fascinated by geometric form. I love the rules of engagement with geometry and the limitless possibilities to be found with basic geometric forms. Beginning design in this way gives me the tools I need to beautifully order space. It is this comprehensible ordering of space that is essential to my design.

The human eye seeks beauty, harmony and order. It is within the composition of space that our eye can rest and we have a good sense of our place in the world. We are by degree comforted, inspired or awestruck, according to the form and order of the space we inhabit. We see and acknowledge such a design of space and call it beautiful, because it’s in such places that our hearts sings and we find peace.


Master Plan by Vera Gates


Geometry is the mathematics of shapes. Design is the arrangement of those shapes into a comprehensible and ultimately beautiful and functional order. There are basic rules of engagement, upon which we can build and expand. The interpretation of form can be playful, creative and endlessly variable. 

Our designs are a combination  a fusion  of geometric forms, according to the site, topography and architecture.  This is a creative and highly interpretive process, after all. I readily admit to reinterpreting these geometric forms as my heart desires. This geometric interpretation is how each garden begins to tell its own unique story of place, and how the design evolves. 

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

There is typically one overall form that commands the space, and within there are other supporting forms and associated geometries. This combination of forms establishes a design hierarchy and provides depth, dimension and visual interest throughout the garden.

The functional aspects of the garden (the program elements) evolve within the form, as the design progresses and details are worked out. It is amazing how often all the functional aspects rather naturally fall into place within a strong, overall geometric form.  In fact, we find that if the design is guided first by form, the interpretation of functional elements has a far greater capacity for unique interpretation.


Throughout this series, we will explore garden geometries drawing from archive of design drawings.  We will explore a variety of geometric shapes and combinations of forms, and demonstrate in plan view how these forms emerge as uniquely beautiful garden designs.  

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects

Master Plan by Arterra Landscape Architects


Fog Design+Art, 2016 by Nicole Bemboom

There were some great things to see at the Fog Design+Art Fair this year.

Vera came across an incredible artist and metalsmith, John Haley III, (bio, PDF) shown by the Jason Jacques Gallery.

John Haley III

John Haley III

Lora and Nicole were charmed by The Haas Brother's tabletop creatures, and blown away by The Paper Cut Project's wearable paper sculptures.

The Haas Brothers

Paper Cut Project, by Nikki Nye and Amy Flurry

Did you have any favorites?

Our Retreat in Point Reyes by Nicole Bemboom

Our whole team traveled up to beautiful Point Reyes for a two-day offsite retreat. We met with Rita Hovakimian of Inspiring Success to envision where Arterra is going in the next three years. What a great start to 2016!

Here we are crafting our vision, spending time together as a team and coming up with some exciting new ideas!


Rain or Shine by Nicole Bemboom

Rain, shine, mud or rainbows, the site visit must go on!

Lora Martens - Gardener In Residence by Nicole Bemboom

Hello! My name is Lora Martens, and I am a designer at Arterra Landscape Architects. For the fall and winter of 2015, in addition to my role at Arterra, I will be serving as the Gardener in Residence through the Recology Artist in Residence Program. In this time I will design and install a garden plot in the Sculpture Garden at the San Francisco Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center in South San Francisco. 

I will be blogging throughout my residency about my thoughts and posting photos of the work as it progresses.

The secret of art installations is that most of the work goes unnoticed, until you drag 10 of your closest friends and family members out to do it with you. And the best way to do this is to have your work party on your birthday, the one day out of the year that your loved ones are most likely to shovel manure when you ask them to.    

I have been working for the past 3 months as the Gardener in Residence through Recology’s Artist in Residence program. At the end of the residency I will have installed a land art piece created with found objects in the sculpture garden at the transfer station in San Francisco.

The residency has been an extremely rewarding and transformative experience for me and at the end I will have modified a piece of the planet. That was an extremely humbling, daunting and incredible task, which I approached with reverence and a bit of fear….all these emotions were dissolved in my seventh hour of clearing ivy on my hands and knees from my garden plot. Anxiety goes out the window when your muscles are on fire.


What is a Gardener in Residence?

Just like there are a variety of answers to “what is a garden”, so will there be many answers to the questions “What is a Gardener?”, which makes it even harder to come up with a simple definition for a Gardener in Residence.

The task of being "in residence" is an opportunity given by a supporting organization to individuals so they can have a space away from their normal lives and routines to explore creative ideas in a free and open environment.

Traditionally, these programs have been "Artist in Residence" programs. The idea is simple, provide a studio space, financial support and sometimes housing and meals for artists, who use this time to freely create and think. Usually at the end of the residency there will be a show of the work created during this period.  A more nuanced description of the "artist in residence" can be found here.

A Gardener in Residence program has been becoming more popular lately, as the built environment is seen more as a place of great creativity for human intervention. I would draw a connection between the rise of thinking creatively about landscape and the rethinking of the American lawn and the localization of food production. Both of these movements are rethinking the paradigm of small scale land use in our urban environments.

A successful Gardener in Residence program empowers creative minded growers who are stepping to the plate to replace old, wasteful land systems with an ever expanding catalog of ideas.


My design

The design of the plot is 3 gabion walls filled with found objects from the dump, in a sea of low water use grasses on which floats a boat also made from found objects.

Visitors are invited to sit in the boat in an immersive grass sea and observe these slightly foreboding masses rising from the ground. The walls represent the coming impacts from climate change, they will be filled with burnt wood and found objects that represent the fires that burned so many acres of forest this summer in California.

The boat and the grasses represents a few things: the coming refugee crisis due to climate change, teamwork and togetherness, the romance of boating, the industry of shipping and most importantly the sense that our planet is a boat, and we are in it, all of us, floating in a sea that we need to fix together. No one can be left out of the solution because no one can escape climate change.




Ten people, including three Recology staff members, spent 4 hours of a Saturday preparing the site from the bottom up. It was amazing.

First the team hauled compost onto the site with wheelbarrows and spread it over the entire plot. Then they hauled bark mulch onto the site and spread it over the entire plot. These items will break down and prepare the soil for the plants which will be installed in the coming weeks. Grasses love nitrogen and the compost and mulch will provide them with plenty of food when they are planted.

The welded wire mesh panels were attached with hog rings to make hollow walls and these were placed in footings which had to be chipped with pick axes out of some unexpectedly hard soil. The gabion walls were filled with reclaimed stone for support and a gravel path was spread to create a path and a space for the future boat.

Many thanks to my crew, including my amazing co-worker Alyssa, who came out to support the work of creating a space that will hopefully spark a conversation about climate change. 


In the next few months I will fill the gabion walls with found objects, build the boat and plant grasses. For further updates, check out the blog of my experience at

Wrapping Party, 2015 by Nicole Bemboom

We had a great time again this year at our holiday gift wrapping party.

Our dress-up theme this year was Under the Sea. Any votes for best outfit?

Vera found so many great materials at Scrap for us to reuse that we came up with some really creative ideas for our artful wrapping.

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum by Nicole Bemboom

Our designer Alyssa Erickson stopped by the arboretum at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she brought back some great photos for us. If you can, you should stop by. It's an amazing place. Alyssa recommends going in the spring when the Banksias, Proteas, Grevilleas and Leucadendrons are at their best. Don't miss the bees going for those Banksias.

Go Slugs!

Sketchy Tuesday on the Roof by Nicole Bemboom

We had one problem at this week's Sketchy Tuesday... There was too much to draw!

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the One Kearny Rooftop. What a great time. We should do a Sketchy Week to try to capture all of the views from that amazing location. Check out what we came up with here:

A very special thank you to Rosa Sheng of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Equity by Design for joining us as our Guest Sketcher, and showing us some amazing sketches.

This was our final Sketchy Tuesday of September, but you can get updates about the event in October by signing up to our newsletter.

Sketchy Tuesday by the Bay Bridge by Nicole Bemboom

Thanks to everyone who joined us for some sketching by the Bay Bridge.

Thank you so much to our guest sketchers Melissa Weese and Tom Chalmers of Gensler for sharing all the great feedback.

We hope you can join us for our final Sketchy Tuesday in September on the 1 Kearny Rooftop!

We're planning on keeping the event going once a month after September, and remember, Sketchy Tuesday can happen anywhere you are. Just send in your sketches to and we'll post them with the collection!


Sketchy Tuesday on the Waterfront by Nicole Bemboom

The sun, the bay, some iced tea and sketching. What could be better?

Thanks to everyone who came to Sketchy Tuesday today, and a special thanks to John Lum of John Lum Architecture for being our Guest Sketcher. What a great time. Check out the sketches at

Here we are soaking up the rays and getting a reminder how cool San Francisco's waterfront is.

Sketchy Tuesday by Nicole Bemboom

What an amazing start to our month of Sketchy Tuesdays!

We had a great time at the Crocker Galleria roof terrace sketching the urban skyline and meeting the great people who attended. Thanks to everyone who joined us, and a special thanks to E.B. Min of Min | Day for taking the time to be our Special Guest Sketcher.

Here's a sampling of some of the awesome drawings the group created. You can find them all here:


In case you missed it, we've partnered with the AIA San Francisco and Architecture and the City to host a lunchtime sketching event, every Tuesday in the month of September.

We're gathering with a group of architects, sketchers, designers and enthusiasts every Tuesday at noon to sketch the city and chat with a great community.

We'll share the sketches with the group on our website and Instagram by using the hashtag #SketchyTuesday or emailing your drawings to

Grab your own lunch, sketchbook and drawing utensil of choice and join us next week in the Dogpatch!


Summer Roof Garden Update by Nicole Bemboom

Our student intern this week, Adley, helped us take some pictures for an update to our roof garden, and helped us put together this blog post. Without further ado, here's Adley's blog.

To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another; and not only among the plants, but among the boughs, the leaves and the fruits, you will not find one which is exactly similar to another.
— Leonardo Da Vinci

California Modern by Nicole Bemboom

We worked with Klopf Architecture, RJ & Associates Landscape Specialists and Flegel’s Construction to give an insightful update to a classic Eichler in Palo Alto. It will be on the Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour on May 16th, if you'd like a chance to see it in person!

The conventional divide between indoors and out is creatively deconstructed in this family home. Materials and textures flow seamlessly throughout the home and garden, with planes unbroken by wall or window. The open-air living space allows an unobstructed view from the blue tiled fountain through the home to the firepit that anchors the outdoor living room.

Energy moves through the house like light through a prism. The meditative entry courtyard welcomes guests into the house, providing a moment of quiet before continuing into the airy living space and lively outdoor entertainment space beyond.

Photo Credit: Mariko Reed

The Designer and the Chef by Nicole Bemboom

For the second The Designer and the Chef panel for the AIA San Francisco, moderator David Darling, of Aidlin Darling Design, wanted to celebrate the "idea of true collaboration" that is possibly no where more prevalent than in restaurant design. How do creators with strong visions and opinions come together to create a cohesive and wonderful whole  one that enriches the space, the location, the culture of the neighborhood and can sustain a lively business? Jim Zack, the founding principal of Zack/de Vito Architecture, who worked with David Lawrence of 1300 on Fillmore and Bryan Southwick of CCS Architecture who worked with Staffan Terje on Perbacco Ristorante and barbacco eno trattoria came together to answer just that question.

Courtesy of AIASF.

Courtesy of AIASF.

Great restaurant design is an exercise in extreme collaboration. Both architects and chefs craft strong, singular experiences. They actively develop strong points of view to share through their work. For a restaurant to come together, these defined visions must work as one. Everyone has their part to do to bring all these things together into "an experience that everybody feels comfortable in," explains Jim Zack. 

According to the panel, there are more individual pieces to restaurant design than any other kind. Of course, there is the food and the building and the furniture, but let's not forget the lighting, the drink menu, laying out tables for two tops and four tops and parties of ten, the acoustics, signage, the wineglasses, the kitchen design, the flow into and out of the kitchen, uniforms or black shirts or jeans, the band that plays on weekends, the neighbors upstairs, the bar, ventilation, the menu design and, yes, even architectural detailing. The list could go on indefinitely, and would lead to another endless list around the durability, price point, sustainability and so on, of each element. Is there flooring that absorbs sound, but is easy to clean? Can we find square plates in the right color that don't get too hot to carry to tables, break too easily or use up a quarter of the budget? Can we fit an entrée on top? Do they take up too much space on the tables?

“It’s like creating a language.
— Bryan Southwick

All of these individual elements must become part of one cohesive concept. There is so much to consider in the design that Bryan Southwick compared restaurant design to "creating a language." This is not just creating a visual language, it must speak to all the senses, through the food, sounds, aroma, atmosphere, the texture and weight of the plates, the feel of the seating. David Lawrence describes both culinary creation and design as organic processes that improve all the time, with "layers and layers to make the restaurant complete." Jim Zack agrees that it's all about "the layering and the editing."

If the concept and language don't work with the site, the context and the culture, it will never be comfortable or feel quite right. Staffan Terje explained that you "can't enjoy food if it's disjointed from the space," highlighting the importance of the chef-architect collaboration. At times, the chefs and designers have had to let go of original concepts because they were clashing with the space. That's okay, says Terje, "we're chefs; we have lots of ideas."

Sometimes the concept comes out of the space. When David Lawrence and Monetta White were approached to open 1300 as part of the Fillmore redevelopment, they were inspired and informed by the deep history and culture of neighborhood. This strong connection to heritage has kept the restaurant a busy hub over many years.

With Perbacco and barbacco, Terje and Southwick are "trying to give you an experience where you're at" and not attempting to transport you to Italy. Let's leave the theme restaurants to that. An authentic experience is a comfortable experience, perfect for the essential human activity that restaurants are all about.

The thing you actually do in a restaurant is so extremely basic; you’re eating together with other people.
— Jim Zack

Connecting a concept with a context. Developing a language for all senses. Creating a comfortable experience. Our intrepid panel does all of this to bring people together to do what we are meant to do: eat.