Help Build a North Berkeley Parklet – Kickstarter Campaign

Ian Moore Design has worked steadily over the past two years to bring Berkeley into the Parklet age. We’ve collaborated with the North Shattuck Business Association, Guerrilla Cafe and Philz Coffee to create a fantastic design and now we are assembling the necessary funds to build the project. Local businesses have contributed great support to the project so that there are exciting rewards at every level of financial contribution. Please contribute to our kickstarter campaign here:

Like the Project Here!

Make a financial contribution directly here!


Design, Build and Maintain for Drought

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a Drought State of Emergency on Friday January 17, 2014.  We have all known this condition was building but have been slow to react.  This declaration is critically important in that it gives us all strong impetus to think carefully about water use in the landscape.  One of the first things California residents are expected to do under this 20 percent voluntary water reduction regime is to limit outdoor water use.

Here are some basic tips and guidelines to reduce outdoor water usage through thoughtful landscape design, construction and maintenance.

Irrigation/Watering Audit

The first and easiest thing to do in an existing residential or commercial landscape is an irrigation audit.  Is the system running at maximum efficiency?   What could be done to reduce leaks, runoff, or other water waste?  Next, how could the system be retrofit to more effectively and efficiently deliver water to the plants that most need supplemental water?  If you are watering by hand, would a simple irrigation system decrease the amount of water you are using?  

Planting Audit

Similar to the irrigation audit, now is an appropriate time to take a hard look at your ornamental plants and decide which is worthy of precious potable water.  Such an audit can take many forms but in simplest terms are there plants that currently show stress from lack of seasonal rainfall?  Do you have mature plants that require regular watering under non-drought conditions in order to look there best?  If so, it is an appropriate time to consider replacing them before investing considerably more water.  Regrouping plants to aid in in maximizing irrigation efficiency is also a worthy consideration.

Chief among your considerations in a time of drought is the appropriateness of turf lawn.  Do you have a lawn that you want to preserve or want a new lawn?  Both of these choices should be considered carefully.  If the lawn is not or will not be actively used frequently for recreation and enjoyment, it should be removed now and replaced with a more appropriate landscape.  If your lawn is important to your family’s happiness there are many irrigation and soil improvement that can be made to reduce the water required to keep the grass healthy.  Aeration and addition of water retaining compost can help an existing lawn stay healthy with less water.  New lawns should be sized based on the use they will receive and not larger.  The most efficient way to irrigate a new lawn is with a subsurface mat product like the Hunter Eco-Mat.  These systems deliver the water directly to the turf roots with no overspray or evaporative loss.

Soil Water Retention Enhancement and Mulching

The addition of compost and mulch to any planting bed can substantially improve water retention.  There are many excellent guides on effective mulching to control weed growth and conserve water.  Here is a link to the Bay Friendly Landscape guide:

Sustainable Systems – Rain Water Harvesting, Gray Water and More

The next level of investment in responding to drought and building a sustainable landscape is to enhance your on-site water storage and reuse.  

While rainfall is clearly limited during a drought, rainwater catchment enables you to capture the rain that does fall in above or below ground cisterns and to store it for irrigation and emergency purposes.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has a good summary of rain water harvesting and the required permitting to implement in a residential setting.

Gray water systems can sometimes be installed in a residential setting with minimal retrofit.  In other conditions it is more appropriate to wait until a major remodel to reconfigure your plumbing.  Laundry-to-landscape and bathtub-to-landscape are the most straightforward systems to build and retrofit.  Again, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has good basic information on what is involved.

With increased pressure on our water delivery and purification systems, there will only be more innovative technologies to better take advantage of the water we do have.  

This summary topics only scratch the surface of what can be done to reduce outdoor water use.  Ian Moore Design is a Bay Friendly Professional and can assist you with all of these strategies so please contact us for an irrigation or planting audit, soil water retention enhancement and mulching project.  We also carefully consider water use and opportunities for sustainable systems in every design and construction project. 

We’ll write more about this topic over the course of 2014 as California’s drought condition evolves.  Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to act now to conserve water – 20% voluntary!





Bay Friendly Craftsmanship


BFQP Seal-Design-logo only

I recently completed my Bay Friendly Landscape Professional Qualification (more on the details of this in a separate post) and have been thinking about waste and how it relates to my craftsmanship.

Current waste statistics are important background to my contemplation. There is approximately 100,000 tons of green waste per year entering landfills in Alameda County alone. further estimates that 355,000 tons of construction debris and demolition material are unnecessarily entering the landfill each year in Alameda County.  Elsewhere around the country, the trends are similar.  Even with greenwaste landfill bans such as Alameda County put in place in 2010 and despite large scale recycling programs for construction concrete, asphalt, wood and metals; heavy volumes of waste from building sites continue.

We at Ian Moore Design control our contribution to this waste stream as much as feasible.

There is a frequent dialog on my construction job sites coinciding with each major phase of work. Is this enough? Of this, of that? Construction crews working with me ask this because there is a large potential risk in wasted time and lost productive hours if an order is too small, be it framing lumber, decking material, mulch, plants, or any other consumables. No one wants to make a store run because someone else skimped and cut the calculations too tight.

I continue make tight calculations for many reasons. First and foremost, I don’t like waste – it has something to do with growing up in a Northern New England resource economy where every tool was pushed to its absolute limits and not much was thrown away. I also have more than enough training in the environmental sciences and economics to know that waste has many negative consequences. Second, I know that waste costs me and my clients money. Construction in the Bay Area is expensive, no matter what.  I would rather spend the time and money up front to ensure sure I order the right quantities and dimensions that fit our layouts best; rather than spend time later coordinating with a debris hauler and paying high disposal fees.  Even well preserved reusable or returnable leftovers have costs.  It is best in all cases to minimize what is left at the end of the construction period.

I was not sure if clients noticed or cared and then last week I had a wonderful conversation with a client about how happy he was to see theminimal waste stream associated with his project.  

The realization that I have come to is this.  The prevalence of cheap manufactured construction materials, relatively low cost of disposal and overall acceptance of waste in American society is a significant factor in the deterioration of craftsmanship in the construction trades.   Today the widespread resurgent interest in American made craftsmanship necessarily needs to include low waste throughout the construction process.

Craftsmanship is doing what you love and doing it right and wasting as little as possible.

Along with my Bay Friendly Landscape Professional Qualification, I am happy to say that I can apply these low waste principles to all of my projects.

Concrete Pleasures

A couple of my current projects have me greatly enjoying the pleasures of concrete.  I love the stuff for a variety of practical and aesthetic reasons.  This is not new – the mesmerizing rotation and great mass of the mixer truck transfixed me as much the next kid.  Now, I am a happy peddler of the upscale modernism that fills the pages of Dwell magazine where the clean lines and muted color palettes make concrete a perennial favorite. I can’t resist.

Just as important to me, the tools of the trade, the remarkable plasticity of the material and the genius with which it has been used all give me great pleasure.    I am a fan of the hidden seismically sound foundation retrofit under my Bay Area home.  I am a fan of greatly celebrated works of concrete architecture by Tadao Ando, Jorn Utzon, Eero Saarinen and a few of their predecessors stretching back to the Ancient Romans. I am a fan of the pedestrian urban sidewalk.

My current concrete work is neither as engineered as a Bay Area house foundation nor as genius as a great work of architecture but it is nonetheless transforming – testament to the potential of even small, strategic installations of the material.  Here are a couple of examples.

In this Berkeley rear yard, I installed only four cubic yards to knit together some really broken circulation patterns between house, deck, rear yard and side yard.  Now it works and looks great.

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In this steep San Francisco rear yard, we’re creating a beautiful terraced garden with smooth concrete seat walls along the side setbacks.  In the near future there will be a lush palette of California native shrubs on the outside perimeter, contained by these serene walls, and two level terraces – one for child’s play and one for adult play.

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Latham Square is Open

Oakland’s Latham Square pavement to parks project has opened to the public and on the first day of official use people quickly populated the space.  Following the grand opening ceremony Noon on Friday August 16th it was a sunny Friday afternoon and people sat reading, texting, drinking coffee, sketching as if the park had afforded opportunity for such activities for years.  It was a pleasure to see former auto traffic lanes and a nondescript median serve as an urban gathering place with such beauty and class.  Thanks to Rebar and the City of Oakland for including Ian Moore Design in this project.  DSC_0262 DSC_0278 DSC_0263 DSC_0269

Ian Moore Design provided the landscape installation for this project.  We refined the original planting design developed by Rebar, served as purchasing agent for all landscape materials, and oversaw all planting.

I’ll share some more images and thoughts as I collect them.  I’m excited to observe future programmed events including music and food at the site.  I am, of course, equally interested to see how the planters, plants, ground treatments mature and weather the variety of uses.

Pavement to Parks Reaches the East Bay

The City of Oakland is well on its way to creating its first Pavement to Parks pilot project.  The City is collaborating with Rebar Art & Design Studio to repurpose Latham Square at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway in the heart of Downtown Oakland.

See documentation of the planning and community engagement here:

It is tremendously exciting to see Oakland leading the East Bay into this movement that has been so successful in adding brilliantly conceived, artfully executed and well used public space to San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other leading cities.

Look for Ian Moore Design Build to have a role Summer 2013 in building this Latham Square project in Oakland!

Bricks in the Ground, History at Your Feet

photo (6)I’ve spent the last week working on a brick patio for a backyard landscape project on Cedar StreetIt turns out that reusing this brick was no small commitment. The effort required stockpiling the brick in order excavate for a well drained patio base, pressure washing to remove the sticky clay and weed seeds, and carefully executed cuts given the fragile nature and inconsistent sizing of the old fireplace brick.  By contrast, current brick pavers are perfectly uniform and cut consistently without uncontrolled cracking and breakage.

All of this extra time with these old bricks got me to look at them very closely – many of them, very closely…to my delight I began to be reminded of things that I had long forgotten.  My architect father taught me as a child that bricks carry a lot of visible information their surface including the stamped foundry insignia, occasional other stamped insignia, and of course the color and sheen revealing the material content and firing temperature.

This collection of bricks has a rich history, something the owner is thrilled to have gracing the ground plane of their new backyard landscape.

Here are some of the tidbits that I picked up.

Richmond Pressed Brick Company

Many of the bricks are common bricks from the Richmond
Pressed Brick Company that operated from 1907 to 1966, producing 10 Million bricks per year at its peak.

Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company

photo (4)

A few of the bricks are higher quality yellow brick from the San Joaquin Hills.  These bricks were
used in many early 20th Century grand building around the SF Bay Area including theaters, hotels, and other edifices worthy of quality brick.

photo (5)“Union Made” Brick, Tile and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance

A good number of the bricks have a
triangle insignia that piqued my interest.  I am sure that a lot of historians and masons know this but I did not.  This triangle symbolizes the three initials of the Brick, Tile and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance (BTT).