Connecting People and Nature Through Innovative Landscape Architecture

Collaboration plays a central role in the built environment, and the beautiful outcome for this project was just recognized with a 2018 AIA San Diego Merit Design Award.

Alexandria, a developer Building the Future of Life Science,™ with their tenant Vertex, a Boston-based biotech company and LPA, an award-winning architecture firm, along with McCullough came together to create the vision set by established Vertex. The company wanted to create a sophisticated and attractive work environment to recruit and retain the most talented research scientists in the world. The goal was to allow employees and visitors a place to gather, connect and enjoy the natural beauty of the Torrey Pines habitat.

Pictured above is an example of natural taphoni (top right) and the landscape of the project, which resembles those natural geological features.

Pictured above is an example of natural taphoni (top right) and the landscape of the project, which resembles those natural geological features.

Inspiration from Centuries Old Landscape Formations

During early meetings with the clients, we discussed how best to connect people with nature—an ideal that is infused into our company’s vision. Drawing from our knowledge of the historic Torrey Pines area, a geological feature within the reserve, known as taphoni, gave us an abstract inspiration to design a landscape that resembles these naturally forming cavities.

The McCullough team developed a theme around these unique formations, which is visible throughout the site. For those occupying the building, the juxtapostion between the taphoni forms and Vertex’s vision complete a story that opens the door for conversation and discovery around the science developing at the company.

“A taphone (plural: taphoni) is a geological formation that resembles a small cave with a round entrance and smooth, concave walls. Taphoni are often found in connected networks that have carved into cliffsides, hills and rocky areas. Taphoni are most commonly formed in granite, sandstone or sandy limestone and are particularly commonplace in semi-arid to arid desert climates. This formation is easily recognized due to its honeycomb, or sponge-like, appearance.” —World Atlas

Making Deeper Connections Through Landscape Architecture

A main focus for our designers was to connect the exterior with the interior spaces. In addition to utilizing natural elements as inspiration, careful selection of plant material was considered to recreate the Torrey Pines habitat in a way that felt safe, comfortable and provides a sense of calm and relaxation. Large spaces were designed for company-wide events, medium-sized spaces for smaller groups and many small intimate spaces for guests to sit, dream, read or contemplate their day.

  • The larger space was a natural amphitheater designed with a place to set up a stage with infrastructure provided for audio-visual and tech connectivity.

  • The medium-sized, smaller group gathering spaces feature BBQs, outdoor conference facilities and fire pits.

  • The smaller intimate spaces contain comfortable seating, concealed under shady trees and surrounded by plants that move in the wind softly or attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

“This project is arguably one of the most beautiful environments in Southern California, and is nothing short of amazing,” said David McCullough. “We’re really proud of this project as we believe Vertex will make great things happen for science in part due to the spaces we created.”

Client: Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.
Architect: LPA, Inc.
Tenant: Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

View more McCullough projects like this →

Who’s Building San Diego? McCullough, That’s Who!


Hatch, a leading magazine dedicated to innovative San Diego companies, features McCullough in this month’s issue. “We are curious dreamers influencing space by a mindful practice merging context and creative passion with grit, soul and style,” commented Catherine McCullough. “Our work is centered on this vision and we are so pleased that Hatch is showcasing our firm.”

Read the Hatch article →

Get into the Holiday Spirit by “Liking” Our Gingerbread House on Instagram

Like “703 Snowflake Drive” on Instagram, before December 20th →

OCS Lighting + Control, a manufacturer’s reputation firm, sponsored the Gingerbread House Contest 2018. Winners who earn the most “likes” receive “bragging rights” along with a gift basket of Baileys Irish Cream and hot chocolate to warm up those chilly San Diego nights.

Our staff came together to revisit their childhoods and build this yummy house. Hours and hours were spent on the landscape design. It’s not as easy as you think to design with gum drops and candy canes.

A Small History

The origin of the traditional gingerbread house dates back to16th century Germany when the decorated cookie-walled houses became part of the Christmas tradition. The Brothers Grimm story of “Hansel and Gretel,” which includes a house made entirely of treats, made the tradition all the more popular.


Catherine McCullough Honored With Prestigious “Women Who Impact San Diego” Award

The images above are from our project located at Fifth and Hawthorn in downtown San Diego.

Women Who Impact San Diego

We are very proud to announce that Catherine, President and CEO of the firm, has been selected by San Diego Metropolitan Magazine this month as one of sixteen “Women Who Impact San Diego.” Catherine’s commitment to our city, her dedication and volunteerism to her profession are crowning examples of what have earned her this prestigious award.

“Catherine has a proven history of taking organizations to the next level of success and creating community all around her, while working hard to elevate and benefit others along the way.”
—Melissa Stayner, CREW San Diego Director of Marketing & Communications

Read the press release →

Read the full SD Metro article →


Eric Tran Promoted to Studio Team Leader


We are pleased to announce that Eric Tran, formerly an Associate, has been promoted to Studio Team Leader for the firm. He will collaborate with Catherine and David and is the key liaison with our technical staff. Eric’s friendly communication style will aid in setting clear expectations to the staff for office standards and productivity. His new role will bring a better efficiency to our clients and their projects.

Read the press release →

David Presents McCullough’s Vision With FSDA


Come join us November 17 for David McCullough’s lecture “Merging Context and Creative Passion with ‘Grit, Soul and Style’” to Friends of San Diego Architecture organization. David digs down to the roots of what drives McCullough’s creative processes and creative landscape design. The presentation will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design located in downtown San Diego.

Learn more →

New Team Members Bring Leading-Edge Expertise to McCullough

These beautiful photos of the SDSU Aztec Walk are from our project at San Diego State University completed in Summer 2018.


We are thrilled to announce three new team members who share our creative passion and bring new perspectives to our collaborative design projects.

Read the press release →


Joining us as Senior Associate, Nabyl “Naby” Macias’ expertise lies in the creative integration of landscapes with the communities and cultures that they serve. Naby’s experience working internationally on a wide variety of developments is a valuable addition to McCullough’s repertoire.

Specialties that Naby brings to McCullough’s projects:

  • Large-scale city planning from cities throughout the U.S., China, Indonesia and Mexico

  • High-profile urban design experience

  • Diverse mixed-use portfolio

Education: Cal Poly Pomona
ASLA Honor Award

“I admire McCullough’s enthusiasm for creating unique spaces and am looking forward to joining in the adventure of cultivating something inspiring and impactful.”
—Nabyl Macias, ASLA


Our new Associate, Armando Silva sees landscape through the eyes of a punk rocker: each design is a unique arrangement of musical notes that form an expressive, ephemeral design. His collaborative nature and diverse range of experience will be a great asset to the team.

Specialties that Armando brings to McCullough’s projects:

  • Civic development experience

  • Creative approach to urban design

  • Large-scale master planning skills

Education: Cal Poly Pomona
Don Brinkerhoff Landscape Architecture Scholarship Award, Studio Leader in China

“The most exciting thing about joining the McCullough team is working with individuals that push the boundaries of what landscape architecture is perceived to be. They are not bound by traditional design principles. Their passions influence design which gives soul to a place.”
—Armando Silva, ASLA


Nicole Hensch joins the McCullough team as our Marketing and Administrative Assistant. Following her graduation from Cal State University Northridge and her recent experience at Bert L. Howe & Associates, a multi-disciplinary construction consulting firm in Anaheim, she will be assisting in business management, human resources and support of marketing activities at McCullough.

Specialties that Nicole brings to McCullough:

  • Excellent client service

  • Experience in human resources

  • Organizational skills

Education: California State University, Northridge

“I’m excited to join a family of creative minds and use my own strengths to increase their productivity.”
—Nicole Hensch