TERREMOTO rejects convention in pursuit of a more just practice

Shake Up

TERREMOTO rejects convention in pursuit of a more just practice

Varda Landing in Sausalito, California, completed in 2021 (Caitlin Atkinson)

This article is part of our series of profiles on The Architectural League of New York’s 2023 Emerging Voices winners published in the March/April issue of AN. The full list of winners can be found here

As the firm’s name implies, the landscape architects at TERREMOTO (Spanish for “earthquake”) aim to shake up the discipline.

Not content with creating beautiful and functional landscapes, the “respectfully inflammatory” Los Angeles– and San Francisco–based office rejects design and construction conventions to create distinctive landscapes that honor a site’s users, history, and future.

“TERREMOTO is presently navigating a transitional period within its practice towards making omni-positive gardens and landscapes that are fair, just and generous in their relationships to labor, materials and ecology,” Cofounding Principal David Godshall told AN.

“We believe that we are at a cultural, environmental + civilizational fork in the road, and through deep internal self-interrogation of landscape history and practice (including our own), we are creating a constantly evolving set of metrics that will allow us (and you!) to create gardens that can lock horns with the BIGNESS of this moment.”

KX Lab, Los Angeles, finished in 2022 (Stephen Schauer)

This self-aware, iconoclastic philosophy appears in 7th Avenue Garden, a collaboration with artist David Horvitz. Rather than wait out a byzantine permitting process that can take months, the team worked guerrilla style to transform a vacant lot next to Horvitz’s studio. They used rebar and concrete from demolished buildings at LACMA and seeded the garden with dozens of native plants, trees, and wildflowers. The previously formal but now overgrown landscaping elements stayed while the collage elements of the new garden grew around them. Given that the team transgressed traditional approvals, TERREMOTO described the landscape as a “DMZ [demilitarized zone] between realms public and private.”

The firm delivered a more traditional but still surprising design for KX LAB, a high-tech knitwear company. Here TERREMOTO built an intentionally unruly outdoor break room that contrasts with the facility’s precise work. First the team installed wide benches around a small pond filled with native aquatic plants. Then TERREMOTO enlisted the help of a gray-water recycling firm to install 1,500-gallon rooftop tanks that irrigate stands of sycamore trees. The rest of the area, modeled on a creek bed, is packed with gravel, peppered with tables, and lined with stones and concrete seating. Even in the driest months, the lush landscape is a foil to nearby factory production.

TERREMOTO’s design philosophy is too expansive to be condensed into a single tagline. Instead, it “mines the omnipotence of intentional inexactitude and flirts openly with illegibility,” Godshall said. “We strive, in many cases, to do as little as possible. It is our goal to build gardens and landscapes not for this civilization, but rather, the next.”