American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2008 Professional Awards
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The exiting site conditions included thick vegetation that obscured views of the island estuary. (Photo: Oehme, van Sweden)
After clearing by three successive burns, a summertime view of the replanted meadow is shown, here. (Photo: James van Sweden)
Autumn in the meadow. (Photo: James van Sweden)
Winter in the costal lowland meadow. (Photo: James van Sweden)
Selective clearing reveal the beauty of the native live oaks and opened up views to the distant marshland.(Photo: Richard Felber)


Coastal Island Retreat, Spring Island, South Carolina
Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, Inc., Washington, DC

"The landscape sets the organic tone for this home and shows great restraint. The vernacular plant palette demonstrates the landscape architect’s true gift for interweaving with nature. Not easily done."

— 2008 Professional Awards Jury Comments

PROJECT STATEMENT: This single-family home on 65 acres highlights sustainability, ecological restoration and preservation. The design inspiration is taken directly from the existing landscape; the native beauty of the semi-tropical lowland coastal planes guided the landscape architect. While notable for its ecological sensitivity, just as importantly, this project advances a sustainable aesthetic that embraces the island landscape rather than battles against it.

PROJECT NARRATIVE: Once a rice plantation, this South Carolina coastal island is now a private community dedicated to preserving 3,000 acres of maritime forest and 3,500 acres of pristine marshland. Development guidelines protect the ecosystem and the landscape architect worked closely with the island’s staff naturalists to meet the community’s Habitat Review Guidelines.

Although untouched by industry, the landscape is recovering from agricultural use. Working with eroded and compacted soils and ridding the property of invasive species was part of the challenge encountered by the landscape architects.

The landscape architect sited the house in conjunction with a pioneering green architect. Elevated eight feet above grade to accommodate the shifting the tidal flood plane, the Japanese style residence lacked connection with the ground. The landscape architect designed certified re-harvested hardwood terraces to bridge this gap. These gently stepped terraces guide visitors from the porch down to the paths, fields, and forests beyond.

The goal was a restful and Zen-like landscape. The client wished to preserve the unique lowland character of the property rather than create extensive gardens. Determined not to “pretty up” the site, the designer sought inspiration in the adjacent forest, meadows, and marshes. Selectively removing palms and thick, overgrown vegetation highlighted native live oaks and revealed calming views of sky, grass, and water.

Respect for the land informed every design decision. The site is devoid of impervious surfaces, for example. Rainwater is captured from the roof and diverted toward the meadow. Many areas, including the gravel entry ways and paths, are covered with pine straw culled from the forest floor thereby minimizing contrast between the natural and the built environment.

The plant palette was taken directly from the immediate surroundings; some plants were dug on site and moved; others were selected based on species that flourished in the nearby woods. Community naturalists also made recommendations, suggesting inclusion of Eastern Redbud in the planting plan to hasten the return of this native tree to the forest understory. In preparation for planting, the meadow was subjected to three controlled burns per the recommendation of a specialist engaged by the landscape architect.

The landscape surrounding the residence was designed as a patterned and ordered version of the island itself. This subtle—yet orchestrated—contrast between the tamed landscape near the house and the natural reserve beyond is key to the success of this project. The landscape architect edited and restored the broader landscape revealing the essential beauty of the site. From the house, the terraces give way to nature: Looking east, a massive planting of Spartina patens creates the illusion that the marshland has grown up to meet the residence. Looking west, the evening sun dramatically illuminates fields of native grasses including andropogon, sargastrum, and panicum.

This project demonstrates that, with cooperative clients, landscape architects can design with nature at every residential scale.


Landscape Architects:
Lead Designer:  Sheila A. Brady, FASLA
Senior Associate:  Robert C. Hruby, ASLA


William McDonough + Partners, Charlottesville, VA

Folk Land Management. Inc., Green Pond, SC

General Contractor:
Bay 10 Ventures Hilton Head Island, SC

Landscape Contractor:
Beaufort Landscaping, Sheldon, SC

Spring Island Company, Spring Island, SC
Habitat Review Board of Spring Island, SC
Bruce Lampright, Island Naturalist

Rain Barrels:
Rhodes Ragen Smith



The pool area was enhanced by the addition of palms, bringing the subtropical vegetation up to the edges of the house and introducing a strong vertical element to the design. (Photo: Richard Felber)

Saw palmetto, culled from the site and replanted near the residence, adds texture to the terraced area. (Photo: Richard Felber)

All rainwater is collected from the roof and redistributed via a stone-line swale and below grade drainage pipe. (Photo: Richard Felber)
This eastward view of the pool deck and terraces shows the morning light on the estuary. (Photo: Richard Felber)
Site Map (image: Oehme, van Sweden)
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