American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2008 Professional Awards
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A single granite step invites one to cross the threshold wall from the vehicular court into a steep wooded slope-three sugar maples planted close together and a bank of sumac recreate a woodland fringe immediately adjacent to the house. (Photo: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
The side of the house that features the entry and a cantilevered screened-in porch draws sightlines deep into the woodland to the lake below. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
Looking back towards the vehicular court after descending site stairs that transition from steel to concrete to stone boulders. (Photo: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
A native river stone path passes beneath the elevated floor of the house and through a 'landscape' of structural columns. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
The house porch hovers amidst the existing woodland tree canopy with views of the path and lake below. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
After passing beneath the house, the views through the structural elements of the house appear to mimic the staccato of the surrounding woodland tree habit. (Photo: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
Concrete risers punctuate a loose rounded-river stone path carefully set into the existing grade so as to minimize disturbance to the existing tree root zones. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
A rocky swale that cuts through the middle of the site is spanned by a concrete walk that subtly bridges the water course, maintaining the site's hydrological regime. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)


Passage to the Lake, Stoneham, Maine
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects, New York, New York
client: Margaret Nomentana

"Simply stunning. The pathway to the water is intensely beautiful. The landscape architect has a real genius for balancing bold materials that relate to the home and providing good contrast with beautiful plants and nature."

— 2008 Professional Awards Jury Comments

PROJECT STATEMENT: J.B. Jackson observes that the essence of a garden “satisfies the aspirations of everyday existence” with “work that has quality and measure, capable of humanizing a small fragment of nature.”

This garden’s emotive qualities are shaped by a belief held both by the client and
landscape architect that the stewardship of a landscape is an art form, one that balances the studied appreciation of its life-content and the development of its ritual occupation—in this case through the crafting of a passage through a small wooded site to a lake. Within the practice of landscape architecture, this project demonstrates the difficult-to-achieve balance between the imposition of design and the invitation of a site’s dynamic capacities for successional growth.

Project Context
The Maine landscape is classically identified by the proliferation of kettle pond lakes and dense tracts of native woodlots. Located at one end of a horse shoe-shaped lake in a small community in Stoneham, Maine, this small site accommodates the client’s passion for kayaking by affording access to the lake. The design of the house and the landscape both
foster the illusion that the occupation of the site necessitated minimal intervention, while in reality the woodland ground plane required an extensive amount of reconstruction. The damage to the site from the first phase of construction, which included building the house, set in motion an iterative process of field observation and the design of site improvements.

Project Tectonic
The long concrete site wall edging the vehicular court initiates the tectonic narrative with a rhetorical threshold to the woodland beyond. After crossing this threshold, and passing by the front door to the house, an informal walking path negotiates a steep wooded slope to a boat dock on the lake—the design of which extends the idea of introducing discrete architectural elements as a means for fostering an awareness of the subtle changes in the character of the woodland floor (hydrology, light regime, ground plane planting, existing tree species). The design employs a limited palette for the pathway architecture, consisting of boulders retrieved from the initial site work, native rounded river-stone, cast-in-place concrete and steel—the combination of which constantly changes with the shifts in the site topography and the ground plane plant community that is encountered.

The construction of the path and woodland ground plane was phased in four iterative planning steps, each arrived at by on-site discussions and field investigations with the client. A broad range of design methodologies were employed within the various phases of the project: drawing traditional contract documents, exploring low impact construction methods, researching mail-order components, engaging a metal fabricator to make a specialized bracket, selectively editing volunteer plans, and transplanting plants from other parts of the site. In total, the project work on site spanned eight years, with each
progressive step becoming increasingly less invasive and more focused on the qualities of the forest floor—the process of design and the finished project both amount to a kind of meditative passage, one that constantly invites new observations of the qualities of this small woodland site.


Landscape Architect:
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects New York, NY

MVVA Project Team:
Phase 1: Michael Van Valkenburgh, Matthew Urbanski, A. Paul Seck
Phase 2: Matthew Urbanski, Gullivar Shepard
Phases 3 and 4: Gullivar Shepard, Jason Siebenmorgen

House Architect:
Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects


House and Site Structure Contractor:
Mark Conforte Builders

Landscaping Contractor, Phases 1 & 2:
Daisy Mountain Garden Works

Landscaping Contractor, Phases 3 & 4:
Lucky Landscaping



A view back uphill reveals the theatrical juxtaposition of the pathway elements and the house porch hovering above the woodland floor. (Photo: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
A reinvigorated fern dell drifts across the concrete site-bridge which spans a gap in the tree canopy between hardwoods and pines. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
As the pathway transitions into a stand of pine trees, structural metal grates, supported on low impact pin-foundations, level the pathway and highlight the soft qualities of the pine duff and mossy ground plane. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
After a turn in the path, the pine duff is punctuated by a line of discrete concrete risers that descend to the lake. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
The orientation of the stepped path frames a view of the lake water, intentionally off-axis with the modest boat dock. (Photo: Margaret Nomentana)
This view is enigmatic of the project's site detailing; the architectural elements in the path construction highlight an awareness of the dynamic woodland floor through their subtle positioning within the site topography. (Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
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