Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of AECCafe.com, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.
River House in California by MARK DZIEWULSKI ARCHITECT
September 25th, 2013 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: MARK DZIEWULSKI ARCHITECT
The owners wanted to take full advantage of a spectacular site on the banks of theAmericanRiver. Heavily wooded and facing a state park across the river, the site provides a natural setting, rich in wildlife that would allow for bird watching year round. The house is located to maintain as many mature trees as possible, which provide sun-screening and further enhance the concept of living in nature.
The house has two main components: a service area including the garages, maid’s quarters and laundry rooms; and the living quarters, including the bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and dining room. It is a single story residence to facilitate accessibility. As the clients entertained often, flexibility was important and the ability to open the entire house into a large, continuous room was paramount.
The concept for the design is best described as a journey: from the man-made of the street to the nature of the river, from the public space to the private of the living quarters, from the screened and enclosed to the transparent and open. The house is arranged in a series of layers through which the occupants pass. From the public road one enters a courtyard whose fragmented curve echoes a gesture of greeting, as it wraps around the visitor.
The exterior walls facing the entry court are solid for privacy and to heighten the sense of nature once you pass beyond them. The journey follows a curved path along the exterior wall, under a protective trellis, to the main entry. Entrance is over a bridge spanning a koi pond, which introduces water as a theme. The sight and sound of the babbling water are used to signify the transition from public to private, from man-made to the realm of nature.
The entry doors allow passage through the main ordering element of the entire plan: a curved wall that continues through the whole house. The wall marks a separation from the private inner world. Beyond this are all the main areas, aligned to overlook the river setting through a wall of glass. All doors can be slid open along the curve making the form visible from one end to the other and opening up the entire space, revealing the full extent of the house.
The wall is naturally lit by a ring of skylights and provides a gallery for the owners’ extensive art collection. It is intended to read as counterpoint to the open façade of natural views facing it: manmade beauty reflecting a natural one. The sculptural nature of the curve allows it to be recognized in all parts of the house and it provides a framework and order for all the main spaces – the occupants can continually re-orientate themselves in relationship to this wall as they pass through the house. The glass facade is protected with extended cantilevered roofs that shield the sun and also create a framed view that allows the house to be open yet sheltering, similar to a protective tree canopy.
The boundary between inside and outside is blurred by the use of continuous glass walls and finish materials that extend beyond them. The main rooms flow out into the landscape. The master bathroom extends into onto a hidden Japanese garden – also a reference to the many years the owners lived in Japan.
The continuous expanse of glass wall was achieved without the use of bracing or heavy moment frames, by creating two large masonry shear walls, pulled outside the footprint so that they read as screens slid open to reveal the view. These also allow the use of oversized soffits that are needed to shade the glass in this hot central valley climate.
The house was designed to be environmentally conscious and to reduce energy demands. It uses both active and passive controls such as large overhangs to shield the large glass areas from summer sun, whilst allowing it to enter in the winter, and heavy walls with restricted openings facing the more sun-exposed west facade.
The house was carefully sited amongst the mature trees to maximize their shading qualities. The line of skylights that follows the central spine of the house allows natural light into the deeper areas. The roof conceals an array of photo-electric cells that generate enough power so that at certain times electricity is even transferred back to the main grid.
The house was designed to allow the owners to enjoy this natural setting whilst providing a nurturing and private realm for family life. Floating above a bluff, the house is a response to the context – a sculptural form set within the landscape and at the same time at peace with it.
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