Observation and a Remarkable House

Every space and building has it’s own character and its own history  its virtues and sometimes its vices. An integral part of preparing an Architectural design is to — understand these qualities. Some things can be measured, like a survey (neighboring buildings, trees, rocks, and contours), subsurface geology or the prevailing weather patterns. Some things can be calculated, like the path of the sun across the property throughout the year. Other qualities need to be experienced and understood in an intimate and personal way. Bringing together all of the measurable data and all of the personal impressions is what we refer to as “Observation”.

Old exterior view

We’re currently in construction on a remarkable house: a project that started as a remodel and developed into a new building, that when it’s complete, will be the one of the most earthquake safe houses constructed in the country. Many factors influenced the nature and course of the design, but our early observations were critical in unlocking the potential of the house and land.

New exterior view

The original house, built in 1965, was well sited at the crest of a wooded hill, with a sweeping overlook of the Bay Area. There were some good architectural ideas in the original design, a strong triangular geometry and extended cantilevers, but in this case the whole was definitely less than the sum of the parts. One of our major observations was that the house didn’t take full benefit of its beautiful surroundings as the major spaces were focused inward, creating a dark, cocoon-like environment.

Old interior view

New interior view

As we began to understand the nature of the old house we realized that to unlock the potential of this beautiful site, we had to raise the walls in glass to bring in the view and let the sun flow in, to open and extend the cantilevered roof to give both a sense of shelter and of gentle lightness. In short we had to allow the caterpillar to grow into the butterfly!