This house for an artist and an arts administrator addresses the increasingly familiar situation in Los Angeles of clients seeking to build new houses and being compelled to develop “difficult sites” -- steep uphill or downhill lots, often considered unsuitable for building by conventional standards. The proposed solution strives for a balance between economic concerns, engineering 1 requirements, and the desire to create an architectural experience particular to the site. In this case, the site is a hillside covered with native shrubs, trees, and grasses, with views of a nature reserve in one direction and the city in the other.
Department of Building and Safety requirements for open space as well as setbacks from the top of the slope called for the provision of flat areas at street level and at the rear of the building. The need for economical engineering of retaining walls led to the development of a scheme with three 12-foot-high (3.7 meter) stepped terraces carved out of the slope. Consideration for these requirements resulted in a design, which would integrate the building into the hillside, while still drawing a distinction between the man-made interventions and the surrounding landscape. The retaining walls became the demarcation. Massing of the building consists of three rectangular tube voluments stacked lightly on the three levels, which step up the hillside. The open ends of the tubes are entirely glazed, directing the views either toward the city or the park.
The lowest volume contains the garage. The middle volume contains bedrooms and a tunnel-like studio/library space spanning the entire length of the building. The uppermost volume contains living, dining, and kitchen areas. Plywood-clad boxes, which enclose stairs, baths, and utility rooms, float within the interior space of the tubes at each level, defining individual areas for different functions. All interior surfaces of the tubes are treated in smooth white finishes to emphasize the notion of weightlessness and to accentuate their directional relationship to the outdoors.
Budgetary considerations prescribed the use of standard American light-frame wood construction methods (called ‘Type V’) and readily available building components throughout. The entire exterior of the building (roof, walls, and soffits) is “shrink wrapped” in an inexpensive, energy efficient, thermoplastic roofing membrane. Its high solar reflectance and thermal emissivity decreases heat flow through the building while helping to mitigate systematic increases in urban air temperature and improve air quality.
1. Exterior: white thermoplastic roofing membrane (Sarnafil); Aluminum windows
2. Interior: white laminate floor
3. Douglas Fir plywood paneling
4. Corian kitchen island