Alongside the great beauty, temperate weather and ocean breeze associated with coastal California living, earthquakes and landslides are an unfortunate and oftentimes fearful reality. While instances of destruction are rare, occasional catastrophes — such as the 2007 landslide that destroyed a Mount Soledad home and, according to the Union Tribune, continued to impact the local community for years after the event — remind us of the challenges inherent to building and development along the Southern California coast. But while ground surface changes due to subsidence, landslides and fault lines can contribute to architectural difficulties, they also lend seasoned architects the chance to push innovative limits — and to create strong, balanced and beautiful homes throughout San Diego and across the greater California landscape.

Drainage and excess water are among the chief concerns likely to arise in hillside development projects; and in order to guarantee a safe and stable structure, it is critical to first assess the likelihood that excess water will weaken the soil, cause moisture problems inside the house or even, as in the Mount Soledad case, contribute to erosion under the street and subsequent reconstruction and rebuilding requirements. However, thanks to decades of familiarity with soils, slopes, drainage, erosion and structural weaknesses concerns unique to the California terrain, local architects now approach hillside design with an eye towards both the opportunities presented by the site and to the technical methods needed to achieve them safely and securely. Together with geologists and engineers, architects begin each new project by analyzing the soil, drainage patterns and fault zones to ensure adequate support while optimizing the development of the property — and in many cases, to also implement new materials for better solutions to age-old structural problems.

Despite the difficulties of building on our majestic bluffs, cliffs, mountains and coastal lookouts, we at Alcorn & Benton look forward to not only meeting, but even exceeding the developmental challenges that routinely greet us in our San Diego practice — and creating enduring homes for each and every one of our clients as a result. Our skilled architects find ways to enhance, as well as withstand, the experience of living amidst California’s hillsides and canyons; and by balancing technologically advanced materials and sustainable strategies with years of local experience, we offer homeowners the security and satisfaction of living safely and comfortably — no matter the elevation or incline.

by Paul Benton, Architect + Engineer

This article originally appeared in the La Jolla Light in September, 2011.