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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

Tiburon House in San Francisco, California by Andrea Ponsi Architetto (designed using Vectorworks and SketchUp)

November 9th, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal

Article source: Andrea Ponsi Architetto

The setting

On San Francisco Bay, on the eastern side of Tiburon peninsula, at the end of a short road running steeply downhill amidst the vegetation, a narrow triangular valley slopes gently down to a little beach.

The house is located in the center of this valley and opens directly onto the beach, which in the course of the day widens and contracts with the rising and falling of the tide.

Deck opening onto the beach (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

  • Architect: Andrea Ponsi Architetto
  • Project name: Tiburon House
  • Location of site: San Francisco, California
  • Architect of record: Jensen & Associates, San Francisco
  • Production team: Scott Davis, Dean Orr
  • Photographer: Richard Barnes
  • Software used: Vectorworks and SketchUp

Custom-designed copper door (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

  • Architectural  design: Andrea Ponsi, Firenze
  • Design team: Scott Henderson, Federico Frittelli, Davide Nigi
  • General contractor: Redhorse Construction, San Rafael, California
  • Consultants:
    • Structure: Jeffrey Weber and Associates, Oakland, CA
    • Engineering systems: Guttmann & Blaevoet, San Francisco, CA
    • Electrical systems: Electrix, San Raphael, CA
    • Landscape architecture: David Shepard
  • Site area: 4500 mq   (2.2 acres)
  • Built-up area: 850 mq (9.146 sq.ft.)
  • Calendar:
    • Project: 2005 -2006
    • Construction: 2006- 2008
  • Completion date: 2008

Copper roof and photovoltaic panels (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

The house of the four horizons

This would be a fitting name for this building, whose floor plan is the result of a movement of contraction and expansion in the direction of the four points of the compass, in search of a continuous relation between interior and exterior space.

The center of the house is an empty space, a courtyard-garden surrounded by a glass-walled gallery along its perimeter. The wings of the house radiate out from this space towards the four cardinal points: four rectangular pavilions whose autonomy is accentuated by individual sloping copper roofs.

The pavilions hold the guest quarters, service areas and garage, master bedrooms, and living area. The living area opens, through a long wall of sliding glass doors, onto a wooden deck that descends gradually to the beach.

Entrance hall with custom-designed lamp (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Adaptation to the site

The building is laid out on one floor, a decision dictated by the desire to attenuate the environmental impact, adapt to the pre-existing conditions of the site, and create a continuous, diffused interaction between the interior space of the house and the gardens surrounding it.

As it nestles into the site, the house follows every, even minor, difference in level: the pavilions are on slightly different levels and the gallery that leads from the entrance vestibule directly to the beach changes levels along its length by means of two short flights of stairs.

Entrance hall with custom-designed lamp (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Itineraries through the house

The front door is on the western side of the building, at the point where the pavilions of the service areas and the guest quarters meet. A copper-clad door opens onto the long gallery that frames the

view of the bay in the distance. This gallery is the real axis of the house, the linear element connecting the point of entry and the beach. Along the gallery are sliding glass doors which open onto the south garden below.

Courtyard-garden and gallery (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Immediately after the entrance vestibule, the outdoor space of the inner garden opens on the left. Conceived as a small domestic courtyard, this garden is enclosed on all four sides by a gallery that functions both to distribute the traffic in the house and as exhibition space for an art collection.

The courtyard/garden is subdivided into a planted area and a wooden deck equipped with seating. A fountain made of polished concrete blocks feeds water into a canal that runs through the entire length of the garden.

Courtyard-garden and gallery (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Forms and materials

The whole building is conceived as a light structure nestled softly into the site. Its exterior skin is made up of a floating curtain wall of slats of “ipe” wood distanced from each other and detached from the walls behind them. This configuration creates a ventilated wall which contributes to the temperature control of the house.

Linearity is a recurring theme of the project. Besides the overall architectural layout, the linear development of the forms and space is repeated in the parallel lines of the wooden paneling on the exterior walls, the copper tubing sun-blinds in the gallery, the sliding panels of sheet aluminum, and the various objects and furnishings made to order for the project.

The custom-designed furnishings emphasize the use of copper. These include the big garage doors and the front door, some of the handles, the sun-blinds along the gallery, various lamps (vestibule, gallery, and kitchen) and an outdoor shower. All these elements were made by artisans in Italy. Copper is also used to cover all the roofs.

Gallery (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

A bio-climatic house

The house is completely autonomous in terms of energy. As an alternative to air conditioning, natural ventilation is ensured by the large sliding glass walls and the presence of the inner courtyard with its function of thermal compensation. The house also has a system of forced-air aspiration powered by the electricity produced by solar photovoltaic cells.

The building’s electrical needs are fully furnished by about 100 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels mounted on the roofs and about 90 square meters of special “solar glass panels” consisting of photovoltaic foil sealed between two sheets of glass. These panels, mounted on various shelter-roofs along the building, function as protection for the pathways and sun-blinds for the south-facing walls.


View of kitchen from sitting area (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

The gardens

The front gate gives direct access to the first garden. Planted with fruit trees, it unfolds on curving terraces on three levels. The area closest to the house is characterized by a large circular flowerbed planted with trees and footpaths that converge on the point of entry to the house.

The south garden, following the east-west axis of the house, is made up of long wooden decks running parallel to linear plantings of flowers and herbs.

The east garden is a symbiosis between the continuation of the interior floor of the living area and a deck opening onto the beach. The terraced yard is interspersed with flowerbeds and planters.

The north garden is the most private and is accessible only from the owners’ rooms. Conceived as a Japanese “dry garden,” it follows the sloping conformation of the terrain.


Living area (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

South garden (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

East façade (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Courtyard-garden and gallery (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

General view (Images Courtesy Richard Barnes)

Flows of natural ventilation

Photovoltaic system


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Categories: House, SketchUp, Vectorworks

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