Landscape Designers of the Year: Battersby Howat
BattersbyHowat creates landscape designs as detailed and striking as the architecture they’re already celebrated for.
When architects David Battersby and Heather Howat of BattersbyHowat Architects won the doubleheader of Architects of the Year and Interior Designers of the Year back in 2011, they were the first to take home both awards in one go. This year, they’ve rounded out their victories to a happy trio by winning our 2018 Landscape Designers of the Year award.
The only surprise is perhaps that they hadn’t won it sooner, given how much they’ve been lauded for the landscape design of their modern homes in Vancouver (and now Edmonton, as the team has also opened an office there in the past year). To be fair, this is the first time they’ve entered the category, as they didn’t feel ready until now—Battersby credits designer Amelia Sullivan with, as he says, “really upping” their game when she joined the team in 2014. “With Amelia, we’ve been able to give so much more consideration to the planting and the details of the planting design, along with the architectural design and the custom elements,” says Battersby.
The seamless nature of their design was celebrated by judge and landscape architect Andrea Cochran. “The landscape and the architecture are so well integrated, beginning with the siting of the building,” she noted. “The two reinforce each other, creating a stronger whole.” Judge Kelty McKinnon of PFS Studio agreed. “BattersbyHowat pays serious attention to the haptic qualities of landscape materiality and species,” she said, “resulting in a powerful juxtaposition of clean architectural form with the heady ecologies of the Pacific Northwest.”
And indeed, the landscape is planned and designed simultaneously with the home—it’s anything but an afterthought. “When David and Heather are starting with the initial concept of the house and the site, the way the landscape will feel and look is part of that process,” says Sullivan. “We often look to natural plant communities that allow that tone to be expressed. We work in layers; we think about structure in the winter, that the garden will still do what we want it to do—and work backwards from there.”
It’s a palette and design that’s crafted for all four seasons. Drifts of green and white foliage in summer give way to branches that are bright red-orange come winter, offering an almost architectural structure to the frozen months. Perennials may be selected for the attractive seed heads they display in autumn; others are chosen because they green up early in the season. A field of buff and champagne-coloured grasses is meadow-like in the fall; come spring, it becomes chartreuse and dotted with the surprising reds of early species bulbs. And the sites are just as aural as they are visual, as certain species are selected for the way the wind moves through their leaves. “One client called her grove of poplars her orchestra, her sound machine,” says Sullivan.
“The gardens are really active, too,” notes Battersby. “I think that’s something people miss a lot in landscape work generally—that the diversity in gardens is so important. You have different conditions around the house, and the mix of the planting changes in response to those conditions. It creates a really rich ecology and habitat—the yards are filled with birds, bees and butterflies.”
The team works with horticulturalist Dave Demers to cultivate unusual, often native selections for their designs that are tough to source. Or they’ll seek out the lesser-known nurseries to find the perfect species to match the colour of some of Howat’s interior design work. One perfect pink flower—the “hula dancer” echinacea—was introduced to Sullivan by Langley’s Free Spirit nursery; she selected it to reflect the colour of a bathroom inside the home.
It’s a careful dance, this play between the building, the hardscaping outside and the plantings. And Sullivan is quick to point out that the holistic nature of their planning is what brings it all together. “I think it would be easy for all of our projects to be just this mass of planting,” says Sullivan. “But the reason it works is because of the consideration of the architectural details—the juxtaposition of the soft and the wild with the decisions made about the architecture of the house, rather than trying to repeat it out in the garden. You don’t need to repeat that same form—it’s nice to have the landscape be a breath, and a break.”