A garden surrounded by a stucco wall evokes California's mission past and a sweet atmosphere of meditative seclusion.
It was what industrial designer Bob Hodgson wanted for his Oakland bungalow.
"I like that sound-deadening feeling you get in a courtyard in Italy, Spain and the Mediterranean," he said. "I also wanted something that was solid where people cannot peek between the cracks, and I didn't
want to hurt the landscape while it was being built."
He also thought he could improve on expensive construction and maintenance problems that come with a traditional chicken wire, plaster and tar-paper stucco wall.
And, he wanted to lure people away from building wood fences for ecological reasons.
Hodgson took 2 1/2 years to develop a post and panel, stucco-covered wall system he calls greenewall. He can build and install a 6-foot-tall wall for less than $100 a linear foot compared with about $300 for a regular stucco wall.
Hodgson first experimented with green materials when he made cubicle dividers out of recycled auto rubber for offices in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom.
To come up with the basic material for his wall, he copied a principle used in aircraft wings and designed a honeycombed core of paper fiber to provide tensile strength and impregnated it with resin to make it water, as well as termite and rodent, proof.
The outer layer is made of a fireproof material containing magnesium oxide, which actually takes carbon dioxide out of the air when it is manufactured. The stucco that goes over it can be tinted and textured to suit, Hodgson said, and pillars, columns, gates, top caps, planters and seating can be added.
The greenewall should also beat traditional stucco in the area of mold resistance and is designed to move with the ground - a must in earthquake country, he said.
Its sound-deadening quality was a big plus for Francesca Kuglen of Oakland, who installed a greenewall around a rental property she owns 1 1/2 blocks from I-580.
She said one tenant told her, "For the first time, I can hang out in the garden. It's quiet. I can read and I can think."
This article appeared on page N - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle, February 27, 2011.
Reprinted by permission from the San Francisco Chronicle.