Sexy Retaining Wall

March 1, 2012 — 28 Comments

David Hocker Landscape Architect

This happy top-o-the morning looking bloke is David Hocker. He’s a landscape architect (Hocker Design Group) and a pretty good one at that. Besides winning an American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) National Honor Design award and a ASLA State Merit Award in the same year, he has the great privilege of working with yours truly on the modern infill project I have been showcasing here for the last two years.

I’ve mentioned that this project would be wrapping up in the next two months and that things are going to start coming together really quickly. Today, I thought I would introduce you to David Hocker and the Hocker Design Group, and show you just one teeny tiny detail that is awesome and worthy of your attention. The chamfered retaining wall edge detail!!! (GASP!!)


retaining wall detail

Do you see it?… It’s right sexy isn’t it?!?

Lets look at it again, but closer, more intimately


retaining wall edge detail

Get In My Belly!! 

For those of you who might not know what you’re looking at or why I think this is a slick detail let me explain. Normally when you have a change in elevation, you have to install a retaining wall to that the dirt on either side of that wall can exist at different elevations. That means you generally have to look at the top of the wall and to be quite honest, they rarely look all that wonderful. When the job is a modern style project, seeing the top of the wall is even less desirable and there are only a handful of ways you can deal with this. In David’s landscape design, he has detailed this chamfered edge to the tops of all the exposed retaining walls so that the landscape growie material can come right up to the edge of the wall. This gives us a nice clean visual  edge while leaving just enough wall peeking out that the guy mowing/ trimming the ground-cover can keep the edge tidy.

Maybe it’s easier to see in a detailed drawing, I just happen to have one for you…

retaining wall detail

See what I mean? It’s not a particularly tough detail to execute but it makes a huge design statement. The concrete subcontractor has only just started to form up all the retaining walls on the front of the project where we have this detail in place. I wanted to showcase some of the before pictures because in 2 months, you won’t believe how good the after pictures will look.

A lot of attention is just now being focused on the exterior and particularly the built portions of the landscaping. One of the really exciting features is the pool that is in the center courtyard. The courtyard deck and pool are completely integrated together using large format bluestone slabs that turn down into and cover the entire pool.


built in pool

But I shouldn’t get ahead myself, that’s coming next week. I can barely restrain myself I am getting so excited!! Hopefully you’re not getting burned out on these posts, of course I find it interesting – it’s what I do. Hopefully (besides seeing something that looks pretty good)  you can learn something and take it away for use in your own projects. That’s really the point of the sexy retaining wall detail – it needs to be used and loved by others.




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  • Chad Miller

    So how has this detail held up? Any issues with chipping of the top corner? I’d love to use something like this but alas I practice in northern Minnesota and I fear our freeze thaw cycle would destroy the sexy top of that retaining wall. 🙁

    • So far so good! We put a concrete topcoat on the the cast concrete and that probably wouldn’t work for for you. I think the cast concrete generally looks great.

      • Chad Miller

        Good to hear! I think I’ll have to try and get an ‘attractive retaining wall’ into a future project. It’s can’t be sex due to freeze / thaw. :s

  • Cody

    Great detail Bob, thank you so much for sharing. My firm has a details lunch twice a month where we discuss things like this and I will be sharing this with everyone. I hope to implement this detail north of the Red River in the near future!

    • awesome! And I love the idea of a details lunch – what a cool idea!

  • Bob, any updated photos?

    • not yet – I need to go take some. The owners started moving in yesterday but the landscaping isn’t finished quite yet.

  • Lisa

    brilliant idea!  thanks for sharing.

  • That is a very pretty detail.  Might hurt though if you somehow managed to fall into it.

    • but wouldn’t that be true with any concrete wall you fell into? At least in this condition, instead of the top of the wall being concrete or stone, there will be groundcover up to the edge to ease your fall.

  • Rick Balkins

    I seen sexier retaining walls…. Look to Astoria, Oregon with sexier stone retaining walls with more artful craft of masonry delight.

    I can design more sexier retaining walls…. Within the exemption of Oregon as it is appurtenant to exempt buildings… Hmmm….. Well…. That is another topic for another day.

    • your comment made my head explode. I didn’t say it was the sexiest retaining wall (although I did think that I was amongst the first to actually call a retaining wall sexy).

      And “within the exemption of Oregon as it is appurtenant to exempt buildings” What!? You are clearly smarter than me because I have no idea what that even means.

      I anxiously await your next comment, I have started taking fish oil in anticipation.

  • Robert Waer

    Hmmm…..I don’t know.  Is that lawn at the top of the wall?  How does one keep the mower from going over that edge?  And how strong is it?   Seems like it could break off easily….just sayin’.

    • we don’t actually have grass growing up against these edges for 95% of their location – it’s more groundcover. Even where we do have grass, the areas are so small that they would get “mowed” using a weed trimmer.

      It would take some effort for this edge to break off, not that it couldn’t happen, but the areas are more seen than actively used.

  • ModFruGal

    I wish I’d seen this detail when we did our wall…genius!

  • Alicia Liebel

    It’s sexy and it knows it!

    • it was just a matter of time wasn’t it?   Thanks for keeping things mainstream 😉

  • Indeed… I can also see this snubbing all the other stubby retaining walls at their next retaining wall party.

    But on a serious note: Will there be any outlining detailing on the exposed side(or at the exposed edge) to distinguish the elevation change?

    • These walls don’t occur in traffic zones for the most part and when they do, there is a rail in place. Most of the plantings where this detail occurs is groundcover.

      party on

  • David Garner

    That is a sexy detail, and one I hope to use in the future.  Thanks for sharing.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Very nice. It looks to me however that the foundation for that 24″ wall is slight overkill! That puppy’s not falling over!! No siree!!!


    • now how can you know a thing like that without looking at the soil report? Hmmmm??

      Very sandy soil, we have to install soldier piers for the retaining wall around the entire site. It was brutal

  • So simple and such a good idea! Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Dan, I appreciate you taking the time to chime in.

  • I understood the sexy part. But once I see the finished bits, I will understand. I am not good spatially or with visualizing. Good thing I’m not an architect. But I AM able to appreciate works of beauty, so am looking forward to the upcoming posts.

    • thanks – these wall will be a lot easier to understand once there is some context and plant material in place. Now there is anticipation!!