In San Francisco, Green Fences Make Great Neighbors

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By Joanne Furio / Published by Dwell
Architectural elements and applied foliage deliver a one-two punch in designing for privacy.

In an urban environment, fences are often a necessity, but they run the risk of taking on an austere, barricade-like appearance. The trick is to provide privacy while allowing light, air, and appealing cityscapes to filter through. A new multifamily house in San Francisco’s Mission District uses landscape elements to accomplish such a feat.

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For a modern multifamily structure in San Francisco, landscape designer Christopher Radcool Reynolds used palms to create privacy and shade. “The trunks are architectural, like columns, and the fronds offer a lot of movement, which balances the building’s rigidity,” he says.

The challenge began at the facade, where architect Owen Kennerly created an aluminum gate that provides security, while its water-jet-cut pattern treats neighbors and passersby to an artful form. A bedroom extends beyond the gate, so landscape designer Christopher Radcool Reynolds, of Reynolds-Sebastiani Design Services, brought in leafy palms to buffer sidewalk traffic and counteract the heat generated from reflected sunlight. "Layering in foliage creates organic interest, dampens noise, and offers environmental benefits such as cooling, shade, and oxygen," he says. "The aim is to frame vistas, not hinder them."  

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A living wall planted with succulents creates a “view” where there was none.