Designing a 'Sky Beach'

Blending infrastructure and "natural" form in practice

The Sky Beach responds to conflicting demands of program and site: we needed to find an artful way to balance a smooth, low-incline pedestrian path with a large lawn on a narrow ridge.

We maintained the larger landscape gesture by creating small switchbacks on each end of the circulation path. The Sky Beach became an asymmetrical berm on top of the ridge.

With this sectional idea in mind, we reframed the design problem as a grading study of a path, in which each existing contour has to smoothly integrate with the evenly spaced contours at the edge of the path. Thinking through grading allowed us to design the form of the sky beach in three dimensions within the constraints of the linear path profile and existing topography.

From here, I developed a Grasshopper script that would allow us to:

  1. Iterate the curve of the path in plan while maintaining “control points” at each end

  2. Generate and iterate the shape of the Sky Beach in plan by establishing a "sky beach edge”

  3. Iterate the vertical profile of this Sky Beach edge using numerical series to define contour spacing (i.e. increasing and decreasing contour spacing)

  4. Specify a 1:2 slope for the sky beach shoulder

  5. Instantly generate a digital model of the sky beach

  6. Output contours to Civil3D for use in the machine-controlled grading process of our builder

The script allowed us to adjust the sky beach compositionally while maintaining control over its extents and excluding undesirable qualities (for example, becoming too narrow or steep).

Landezine International Landscape Award 2021

Ruderal shortlisted in Public Landscapes Category

We are honored that Arsenal Oasis has been shortlisted for the 2021 Landezine International Landscape Awards in the Public Landscapes Category!

Arsenal Oasis was initiated as part of the Tbilisi Architectural Biennial 2020, and is maintained by Ruderal as a test site and teaching garden.

Design and implementation team:

  • Sarah Cowles

  • Benjamin Hackenberger

  • Elia Katamadze

  • David Mamaladze

  • Christian Moore

  • Giorgi Nishnianidze

  • Giorgi Vardiashvili


  • Welding: Giorgi Gamkrelidze

  • Concrete casting: Vepkhia Choquri Amiran Kalandadze 

Camera and editing: Pearly Jacob 

Drone: Benjamin Hackenberger

Special Thanks to:

  • Tbilisi Architecture Biennial Team: Tamara Janashia, Tinatin Gurgenidze, Otar Nemsadze, Gigi Shukakidze, Elene Pasuri

  • The Community of Elia

  • Advili Mesh

  • Sartichala National Nursery

The project is realized in the frames of the Tbilisi Architecture Biennial 2020 with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

Plateaus, canyons, gorges and ridges.

Arsenal, Mtatsminda, Sighnaghi, Nunisi, and Mutso.

It’s late spring and a great time to get out of Tbilisi and head for the countryside. The fields are blooming with swathes of colorful wildflowers.

In this month’s letter, we are sharing updates on our works-in-progress and travels:

-Ruderal was shortlisted in the Public Landscapes category of Landzine International Landscape Award.

At Arsenal Oasis there are a few traces of the fire that burned the wetland last summer. The tadpoles are growing legs, and the willow stakes are just leafing out.

We’ve released a video, produced by Pearly Jacob, detailing the construction of the Arsenal Oasis, and our studio process.

—This summer we welcome Erik Schiller, an MLA + MArch student from the Illinois Institute of Technology to our studio. Erik is developing a curriculum and leading students as part of our in-house training program in landscape architecture. He’ll be posting updates on this summer’s cohort here.

We just received word that Erik is this year’s Martin Roche Scholarship recipient. The scholarship, granted by the Chicago AIA, “gives a student the opportunity to independently study architecture abroad.” Erik’s project will integrate research on Tbilisi’s urban waterways with a new curriculum to introduce architecture students to landscape architecture.

—We also congratulate Elia Katamadze, architect at Ruderal, who completed his M-ARCH studies this month at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. Three days after graduating, we learned Elia and Giorgi Vardiashvili’s project was selected as the winner of a competition for the design of an overlook in Dedoplistsqaro, Kakheti.

—Rough grading of The Sky Beach and other features continues at the Sighnaghi Panorama hotel, near the Bodbe Monastery in Sighnaghi, Kakheti. Ben describes the design process here.

—Ben took a trip to the remote Khevsureti region of Georgia this month. He took some incredible drone footage of the constant work in progress to maintain the Datvis Jvari pass:

Excavators stand by to remove the slides, and they work almost every day to clear the most unstable sections of the road. Between Shatili and Anatori only a sliver of the road remains but the excavator creates a temporary shoulder.

—Sarah visited Nunisi, a historic mineral springs resort near the Borjomi-Khargauli National Park that features a fabulous vintage cableway.

—Our colleague Mariam Megvine published De: Nostalgia, a collection of essays by professional women working in Georgia.

De:Nostalgia is an attempt to fill this lack of dialogue [about the present day] and present an independent publication which offers a diverse and honest discussion. The first issue of this publication is my attempt to pay back to a sector of society which is often silenced, despite its huge efforts to move the country forward: professional women. Their voice is left unheard in their own professional environments, just as they are absent in the discussions regarding the country's development.

Sarah’s essay in the publication, “A Ruderal Practice” details how landscape architecture practice is a means to imagine alternative futures.

De: Nostalgia is available at Postdakona Books in Tbilisi.

—Finally, we are happy to share that Jacob Lindgren and Paul Zdon of Platform, a Chicago-based graphic design studio, designed our new identity. Our new website will launch by mid-summer.

დროებით! (see you shortly).


The Sky Beach

Reconstructing a ridge in Sighnaghi

Heavy equipment operators are busy at the Sighnaghi Panorama Hotel. Ruderal designed the 4.8-hectare landscape as a series of landscape gardens and features for hotel guests. The project involves the complete reconstruction of the ridge’s topography after the demolition of the former Hotel Amiran.

The Sky Beach in progress, as seen from the hotel ballroom. The promenade will be lined with an allele of linden trees and the landform will be turf.

Currently, workers are constructing the backbone of The Sky Beach, a sweeping landform that descends the Nukriani Ridge from the hotel, and features views towards the southeast Alazani Valley. This segment of the ridge was, until recently, covered in rubble and blackberry canes.

Ben Hackenberger designed the landform using Grasshopper.

#wip #gardensatbodbe


A dear colleague and friend, Mariam Megvine, approached me this fall to contribute to De:Nostalgia, a platform for professional women to write about their dreams—and frustrations—of working in Georgia.

Mariam was exceptionally busy during the lockdown in Tbilisi: not only did she instigate, fundraise, edit, and publish De:Nostalgia, she also lead the launch of a new theater company in Tbilisi, Haraki and built a new theater in Tbilisi.

My essay, “A Ruderal Practice” describes how our studio operates in a context of hyper-development that aims to integrate Georgia to the west—in terms of culture—and to the east, through massive infrastructure projects.

The powerful force of nostalgia is a barrier to actual care and imagination about the complex and compelling Georgian landscape. Nature, as depicted in cultural expressions, is an inexhaustible resource that can be called up in song, text, or image; meanwhile, the unregulated and rapid development of tourist areas, suburbs, and byways physically consumes, erases, and transforms the landscape subject.

I describe several “landscape projects of the future” projects in the essay, including “Intersecting Alazani”, a series of constructed garden transects; the Arsenal Oasis; the Kukushka Biennial, an ecological arts festival that follows the Borjomi-Bakuriani narrow gauge railroad, and Arboreta Caucasica, our ongoing research on integrating Caucasian endemic species in landscape architecture.

You can purchase De:Nostalgia online or at Postadakona Books in Tbilisi.

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