Sagaponack, New York
This seaside house designed by the modernist architect Norman Jaffe won awards when it was built in the 1970s, but by the time LDG became involved in 1998, the surrounding dune landscape had been washed away. The house had been moved 400 feet back from its original site and set into the middle of a low-lying corn field. The brief for the LDG team was to reimagine and reconstruct a landscape appropriate to a seaside setting and to fabricate a self-sustaining landscape able to resist the erosive power of the weather and a slowly rising sea level.
Calculations revealed that some 30,000 cubic yards of fill would be needed to reconstruct a protective complex of dunes and raise the grade sufficiently to provide a safe site for the house. The need for grade change was dictated not only by the damage to the dune, but also by a change to the house. In the re-siting, the building was expanded with a new master bedroom and garage set underneath the original structure. To preserve the integrity of the Jaffe design, the surrounding grade had to be raised to conceal the addition.
Rather than importing the required fill, the design team decided to “borrow” it from the site, excavating a 60,000-square-foot basin for a pond that varies in depth from six inches to eleven feet. This volume produced a pond that would function in a natural manner, and it yielded enough fill to raise the grade seventeen feet around the house and create staggered lines of east–west oriented berms that mimic, and function like, a natural dune system. To give the pond a sufficient sense of scale appropriate to the house and site, its margin was configured in a curvilinear “disappearing shoreline.” Inspired by such famous water features as Capability Brown’s lake at Blenheim Palace, this approach keeps the shoreline from being completely visible from any one vantage point. This ensures that the water feature does not overwhelm the view, while also suggesting that the pond extends farther than it does.
The house was anchored to the new dune-setting with a complex of decks that also hide the new construction. Newly planted with beach grass, the constructed dunes gradually descend to a rolling meadow filled with a mix of assorted cool and warm season grasses. The cool season fescues thrive in the spring and fall, while the warm season little and big bluestem and switchgrass provide summer interest. The pond was surrounded with native wetland vegetation and stocked with fish and aquatic plants. This planting provides a visual integrity, and it accomplishes the goal of producing a truly self-sustaining landscape.