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BY JOHN KING, HONORARY ASLA

BEDIT_LAMfeb16_Sweetwater

A community for adults with autism shows the power of an understated landscape.

From the February 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

If Sweetwater Spectrum in Sonoma, California, had been one of her typical Bay Area projects—the visitor center of a winery, perhaps—Nancy Roche might have chosen a different aesthetic in selecting the five trees that will form a statuesque line between the lawn and the communal porch within the cluster of four spacious four-bedroom houses designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects. She might have gone with ornamental pear or a particularly vivid maple, something that in the autumn would shed its leaves with fiery drama.

But Sweetwater isn’t a typical project, or a typical residential enclave. It’s perhaps the nation’s first housing complex designed specifically for adults with autism living largely on their own, a population that is served best by surroundings that offer predictability and simplicity rather than potentially disruptive stimulation. So when it came time to order the high-visibility quintet, intended to form a linear canopy 40 feet high, the tree she selected was a different deciduous variety, zelkova, a relative of the American elm.

“I chose them because I like them, but also because the fall color is a more subtle rusty red,” says Nancy, who with her husband, Dave Roche, ASLA, leads Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture, a four-person firm based three miles away. “It’s more sophisticated than a (more…)

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