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Hypnagogic modernism in the land of Oz

A few ideas have grown out of conversations with the Clients. These concepts directed the formal, spatial, and functional expression of the clients’ brief which called for three en-suite bedrooms plus a detached en-suite guest room, an office, living and dining areas, large kitchen with back kitchen, pools, spa, and rooftop garden. Privacy was paramount, spaces had to be fluid, and the purely decorative was to be eschewed (for example, the green roof and the water features had to be usable, not cosmetic).

The first concept is what the client calls “Indoor/Outdoor Confusion.” There is nothing new to the idea of indoor-outdoor space, architects have been blurring the line between the inside and outside for decades. We too want the line between indoors and outdoors to be blurred but we also want more. We want the boundary to shift, to dissolve, to be put into play. We want to be confused. To this end we engage in a number of architectural maneuvers, some common (such as retractable glass walls and the zealous extension of materials from inside to out) and some uncommon (such as the spatio-material gymnastics of the glass, rock and hanging wall zone in the living area where the landscape interrupts the house and vice-versa). But these moves are just beginnings, greater confusion lies upstairs.

The second is the concept of The Sleeper. By definition a sleeper is:

1) a piece or element on or near the ground that supports a superstructure or

2) something unnoticed that suddenly attains prominence or value.

The first definition of the Sleeper we see most clearly in the articulations of the massing: as an element the second floor volume neatly stacks on the first, an arrangement which is reinforced by color.

The second definition takes shape in the first instance as a response to site constraints. The project faces a semi-busy street so we’ve developed an inwardly-focused courtyard plan. The house effectively turns it’s back to the street, a move reflected in the relatively subdued front facade. Restrained though it may be, a view from the street reveals clues that there is more to the house than meets the eye, for example, in the way the water of the lap pool reflects light on the wall, in the subtle shadowed elaborations of the overhangs, and in the general muscularity of the massing. Approach the front door and restraint starts to give way; move through the house and into the courtyard and the home’s true, expressive spirit is exposed in an explosion of space, material, and, we hope, minds.

Confusion’s reign upstairs begins with the question, “what do sleepers do?” The answer is they dream. Hence the 2nd floor is more than a superstructure, it’s a dreamer, or rather it’s an expression of a dream-like logic governing the transformation of space in which the indoor space of the master suite and office coalesces with the outdoor space of the spa deck, the nexus of the merge being the bi-spatial tree deck. On the tree deck, especially with the doors open, the distinction between “in” and “out” makes much less sense, or to put it another way, the distinction remains but like a boundary in a dream it resists easy articulation. (Said transformation is eerily akin to the fourth moment (or sublation) of the Hegelian dialectic in which thesis equals indoor, antithesis equals outdoor, synthesis equals indoor/outdoor and sublation equals a delightfully disturbed preservation of the original spatial experience.)

Confusion is further conceptualized through the (meta-)idea of the doubling gesture. A doubling gesture is a move in which the architecture both supports and intentionally contradicts its own purported goals, a kind of embodied cognitive dissonance that puts the questions of “why” and “how” into play. One example of this is the spa deck. It’s where the stairs attach and so serves as an architectural expression of the vertical movement between floors. In formal terms it passes through the first floor and nests in the second. By gently penetrating both the first and second floor volumes and disrupting the concept of stacking it’s a celebratory perturbation of the first idea of the Sleeper, as superstructure over base. Another doubling gesture is the way in which the charred black Shou Sugi Ban wall of the porch both invites and rejects one’s gaze. It’s an element that is there and not there, a receding blackness/blankness that simultaneously admits and denies entry. As a riff on the idea of the doubling gesture we duplicated, or remapped, the 1st floor to the 2nd floor such that the first floor main area and bedroom ell gets remapped as the 2nd floor master suite ell, the guest house as the upstairs office, the courtyard as the tree deck, the pool as the spa, the front garden as the green roof, and the porch as the spa deck.

Speaking of the porch: we wanted the increase in floor area the Coronado zoning ordinance permits when a design incorporates a raised porch. We also wanted to introduce a buffer—a physical and psychological transition zone—between public and private and to extend the 1st floor into the front yard to improve the project’s massing and to better reinforce the concept of the sleeper. But as was said this is not a quiet street and the idea of hanging out in front holds little appeal so the function a porch conventionally performs—a place for gathering, for interacting with neighbors and passerby—is largely unwanted. While it is possible to have seating there the porch is not intentionally set up for such use, on the one hand because the floor is repeatedly cut through by illuminated fingers of landscape aligned with windows and doors to create light- and view-slots that penetrate the house, and on the other because the driveway is ramped up in such a way that vehicles drive completely onto the porch on their way into the garage, not something particularly conducive to socializing. There is also no door other than the garage’s onto the area. In the end instead of a true porch we created what in the art world might be called an earthwork, a porch-like site-specific artwork the function and expression of which driven by concept rather than use.

We also liked the idea of “house as jewel box.” This is another common architectural trope, one which typically results in the house being rendered as a jewel, as a glittering, glassy object. We weren’t opposed to this interpretation per se but as before it was insufficient. To begin with, a jewel box is just that, a box, the jewels are the things inside. In our case the jewel is the shimmering pool. In plan we can see that schematically the guest room and 1st floor bedroom wings have unfolded to create a courtyard, conceptually opening what was a closed box to expose the pool; with the walls of glass doors retracted and out of sight what glitters is the water. But with the glass doors in place and on display the house glitters too. Thus another doubling gesture, the house is both both box and jewel. One more thing: most beautiful jewel boxes have inlays. This one does too, for example we inlaid white plaster ceiling and stone deck surfaces with ruddy-brown Jatoba (a sustainable, FSC-certified hardwood). We also inlaid the gray stucco of the porch ceiling and walls with a wrap-around white stucco shell. Playful excisions cut to align with openings in the Shou Sugi Ban wall perforate the porch and shell, improving daylighting while better revealing the shell’s inlaid nature.

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