Over the past few months, a team of designers in Sausalito worked on a tiny landscape measuring just six square meters as part of a competition entry.

With nowhere to go but up, we quickly identified verticality as our primary design move. By freeing the ground plane, we aimed to take full advantage of precious outdoor space to create a flexible extension of traditional living quarters.

In designing this vertical landscape, we took cues from our own backyard, the cliff-dwelling ecological communities that dot the rugged coastline of Northern California. Here, mutually beneficial plants grow together in vertical pockets or “niches,” fostering productive micro-habitats hundreds of feet in the air.  Many of the plants found in these areas are especially adapted for dramatic fluctuations in temperature and water availability. They are low-maintenance and long-lived; they are resilient.

For our project, we installed a modular system that mimics these cliff-dwelling communities. Our system is comprised of man-made pockets filled with soil and resilient plant material. When hung in clusters, the pockets form a continuous vertical landscape, teeming with life.

Earlier this month, we finished construction on our prototype and the “Niche” project received the silver medal in the Balcony category at the 7th annual 2016 World Flower Garden Show in Nagasaki, Japan. Piet Oudolf, the renowned horticulturalist responsible for the High Line planting, created a special exhibition for the show.  It is anticipated that the event will attract around 80,000 people during the month of October.

While our project was small and discrete, our team is starting to think about the potential of interventions like “Niche” in the larger urban landscape. Using the popular Parklet Program as a precedent, can we extract value out of tiny spaces, and in doing so, improve the overall health of our urban ecosystem? Is it possible for these types of prototypes to become consequential? Can tiny interventions change a city?

We envision a future full of living niches. Wedged between buildings, under highways, and attached to skyscrapers, these niches could leverage underutilized, undervalued spaces that typically go unnoticed in the large urban landscape. Individually, they are small and seemingly insignificant. Collectively, they may have the power to be transformative.


Shuntaro Yahiro (Hiro), Ayaka Matthews, and Emily Schlickman are designers in the Sausalito office. Sponsors of the “Niche” project include: Woolly Pocket, Blue Bottle, Heath Ceramics, Edyn, Bon Chic Bon Gout, Ten Company, Ueno Tile, Nagoya Mosaic-Tile, Ryokukaen, IIkide and Seibu.









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