Designing custom fabricated metal components in the landscape is a sure way to make a project stand out. Using metal elements adds a level of permanence to a landscape without the weight of concrete or other hardscape materials. Corten steel (as shown in the image above) tends to reflect a more aged and rustic feel while stainless steel (shown below) is associated with a more refined look. The planter edge above was made from 1/2″ x 12″ corten sections that were pre-formed off site and welded on site.
stainless steel railings

These stainless steel railings were custom fabricated for our Birdrock project and consist of 2″ x 1/2″ rectangular posts with 1/2″ plates  that were mounted to the tile stairs. The handrails are from 1 1/4″ diameter stock. The cable is 1/8″ stainless wire. The cables are spaced so that at the time of inspection a 4″ diameter ball cannot be passed through them at any point. Due to the fact that the cables can be “stretched” they are spaced at about 3.5″ on center. It should be noted that mounting the posts to a tile finish is extremely difficult without cracking the tile. We recommend mounting the posts first and then placing tile around them. Also note that other metal elements such as the stair mounted light fixtures are stainless steel to match the railings.

Buddha head

The focal point of the Birdrock front terrace is a Buddha head that rests in a raised steel planter. We specified 1/4″ cold rolled steel plates with a planter height of 12″. Cold rolled steel is less expensive to use than corten and it has not been “weathered” or oxidized yet. When new it looks black but in time or with an acidic / saline solution treatment it will develop a similar rusty petina as corten. Being next to the salt water the steel on this project took no time to color up. Notice that this area features a mix of both cold rolled steel and stainless steel. They make an interesting contrast in color, warmth and texture. When using cold rolled or corten you never want it to have direct contact with other hardscape surfaces like concrete or tile as it will leave stains as it weathers. In this case the steel is surrounded by a 4″ band of decorative rock which prevents contact with the surrounding concrete. Stainless steel does not need to be separated from other hardscape in the same way.


 monumental trellis
This monumental trellis was designed as the main garden entry feature at the Alpine project. We designed custom cold rolled steel lattice work to be mounted between (4) 8″x8″ posts at each of the 4 corners of the trellis. This trellis is larger than life but was necessary on the expansive site. We used Southern California wild grape vines to climb up into these trellis panels. After a couple seasons they have added a lot of character to the trellis.


At the Birdcold rolled steelrock project this cold rolled steel planter softens the retaining wall behind it. Due to the retaining wall footings there was inadequate soil depth for plants – so the raised planter was a perfect solution. Notice that we used the decorative rock to separate the steel from concrete again.


 cold rolled steel planter
At the upper terrace of the Birdrock project we designed a cold rolled steel planter to serve as a water feature and focal element. It also serves as a preliminary filter for stormwater that runs off the roof and down the decorative rain chains. The clients wanted to have a more traditional water feature but since we were going for LEED platinum certification we did not want to waste that kind of water or electricity. Now when it rains they have a natural water feature.


The “Agave Garden” at the Alpine project is simply a rectangular area featuring white gravel and geometrically placed Agave with a corten steel defined edge. The steel is 1/4″ x 6″ and was finish welded on site. An off center basalt column serves as the focal point. This stone sculpture with its own geometry stands among Agave planted in strict alignment, defying the wildness found all around it.

If you are considering the use of custom fabricated metal elements in your landscape you won’t be disappointed. Just remember to separate oxidizing metals from hardscape and choose the type of metal that fits your aesthetic and budget. Let us know if you have any questions!

Lastly.. In a future blog post we will dive into the fabrication of our most monumental project yet – the Pride flag in Hillcrest. We will be working with MakeFAB once again on a stainless steel monument for the base of the flag pole. The monument will chronicle the local history of the LGBT movement and recognize the founding donors of the project. This will be unveiled at the Stonewall Rally on July 12, 2013.