The Beauty Issue: Andrea Cochran on the Power of Minimalism

By Jeanne Cooper

This story is part of a the Nob Hill Gazette’s feature, Perspectives on Beauty, in our March issue.

Andrea Cochran worked on this stunning residence on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill.

One of the most highly acclaimed landscape architects in Northern California, with a raft of accolades every year since founding her namesake San Francisco firm in 1998, Andrea Cochran still finds beauty in the simplicity of the region’s natural scenery.

Cochran by Iris Lei

“There are stretch-es of driving on Highway 128 between Calistoga and Healdsburg where it’s just rolling hills with oak trees dotted on it. You focus on each tree because they’re so beautiful and sculptural,” says Cochran, who moved here from the East Coast in 1981. “My brother comes here from New Jersey and he doesn’t see the beauty — he thinks it looks too parched, but to each his own. I’m drawn to the minimalism of it. Now when I go back to the East Coast, I feel like I’m being smothered by trees or green.”

Cochran also sees beauty in California’s light and sense of space, and their combined influence on artists such as Robert Irwin, Walter De Maria and Richard Serra, who have in turn influenced her work. “There’s kind of a strength and power to this place,” she notes. “It’s not small and fussy. It’s big and open and the vistas are large.”

Creating beauty — whether soothing as at Stanford University’s Windhover Meditation Center, or thrilling as at a cliffside home on Telegraph Hill — is more of an “editing process,” Cochran says. “It’s stripping away the unnecessary and bringing it back to essential qualities of space and place. It’s about highlighting the quality of the place, making the invisible to become visible.”

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