Bernard Trainor’s Ecological Californian Residences

Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes / Princeton Architectural Press

Bernard Trainor + Associates, led by landscape architect Bernard Trainor, has transitioned into Ground Studio Landscape Architecture. To mark the change, the firm had released a new monograph, Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes, to “reinforce our identity working to design timeless California landscapes.” Regardless of its name, the studio’s work is impressive. And the monograph makes the work look effortless. Of course, we know it wasn’t, and there was a rich design process behind each of the featured projects. We’re just not offered much insight into it.

The flaw in most architectural monographs is the emphasis placed on finished products over process. The best monographs leverage text, drawings, and photographs to build the reader’s understanding of a designer’s approach, in addition to cataloging their work.

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Photos of the design process / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

So what does Ground Studio’s monograph tell us of its approach? It tells us that Trainor tries to marry problem solving and beautiful place making. We learn that the search for the genius loci is paramount to him, and that his firm attempts to more fully reveal that spirit. We also learn that he has a unique ability to read the environmental patterns on a site. Trainor’s not sure how this ability came to him, but his studio’s best projects are strongly informed by it.

You will learn a bit more by searching online for lectures by Trainor. In a presentation given to the Santa Clara Valley Native Plant Society, we discover that he appreciates when planting and hardscape design are beautifully combined. That’s the sort of specificity one can appreciate and gives us something to look for in the book’s projects. The reader won’t have to look hard: Ground Studio deploys hardscape and planting with a strong sense for complementary materials and textures.

Gravel is a favorite hardscape material of the studio; its versatility is on display throughout the book. It’s used in the auto courts of several projects and often serves as the bed in which other stone pathways sit, becoming a common material thread running through each site. Low stone or concrete walls serve to frame and divide outdoor spaces. Hardscape materials will often be shared by the outer walls of the residential designs, creating a unified feeling between architecture and landscape architecture.

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Gravel connects the landscape at Arroyo Sequoia / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Trainor’s lecture also gives us some insight into the specifics of the firm’s design process. Photographic analysis is critical to their work. The majority of the book’s projects are in the somewhat isolated mountains and valleys of rural California. Ground Studio creates catalogs of panoramic photos taken during site visits to create maps and diagrams of specific views and site features that will inform the design.

Given the context of Ground Studio’s sites, there is always an interesting mix of existing vegetation to respond to. Trainor highlights his firm’s expertise at suppressing exotic plants and re-establishing native ecosystems where appropriate. When it comes to favorable existing vegetation, Ground Studios’ designs are deferential and inclusive. Confronted with two mature trees at the entrance of the Arroyo Sequoia residence, Ground Studio constructed a wooden deck that runs up to and around the trunks.

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A wood deck wraps around an existing tree / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

This gesture gives the design authenticity. The firm connects their designs with the surrounding environment by blurring the edges between the two.

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