House 1 in 1961.
House 1 in 1961.

STREET VIEW: A TALE OF TWO HOUSES

As an architect, it is impossible to predict what the future holds for one’s projects and sometimes it is better not to try. This is the story of two residences, both designed for friends but very different in timing and aesthetic approach. Looking at them now, it is clear they have evolved in very different ways.

 

This is not the full life history of the houses. Primarily, it is what can be gleamed from a look at their street views when first built and today. No attempt is made to trace successive ownership and today’s owners have not been interviewed.

 

The earlier of the two—let’s call it “House 1″—was my first solo commission from concept to completion. It was designed and constructed in late 1960, and was located in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Los Altos. At 1,750 square feet it was a small house by today’s standards but at the time regarded as quite adequate for a family of four.

 

It was on a flat lot, situated in a cul-de-sac, and was flanked by two bland and conventional new houses. In the absence of exterior views of any merit it was decided to omit windows on the street frontage and thus the house presented an entirely blank façade to the street and was entered through a small landscaped court. Its architectural style was based on financial economy as the predominant determinant, however purely aesthetic concerns were not wholly absent. For instance, to improve the façade proportions, a few unnecessary feet were added at the each end of the façade wall. The house cost $23,000, which was inexpensive even in 1960. It is now estimated by Zillow at $1,742,000.

 

“House 1″ plan: note the short wing walls added at each end of the front wall.

 

 

“House 1″ and neighborhood context in 1961.

 

Looking at this today I am amazed at the uncompromised simplicity of the street view and that the original façade is completely preserved, but the beautifully scaled symmetrical landscaping provides the house with a new grandeur.

 

“House 1″ façade today.

 

Successive owners’ spirit of preservation extended to the entry court, as well. The only change there is updated doors and windows, but the openings remained intact. Even the wall lighting fixtures are original. The bare pergola (or its identical successor) is now a lush sun screen to the entry door.

 

“House 1″ entry court in 1961 and today.

 

The original entrance is also unchanged ,except for a new light fixture and a fine wrought iron gate. The modest metal street numbers are original. The first owners (who occupied the house for 32 years) initially intended to add a gate, but never did so, preferring to save the money and maintain a direct entry to the front door. There were some changes over the years. For instance, 250 square feet were added to the bedrooms, but that did not affect the front façade.

 

 

“House 1″ entrance in 1961 and today.

 

In spite of some early successes in residential architecture, I followed a different course from 1962 onwards and I designed only the occasional house in special circumstances. The second house, which I will refer to as “House 2,” was one of those occasional houses. 

 

The client was a friend who had decided to retire early to a different community in 1985. He owned a handsome 1925 Spanish revival house on a large lot in downtown Palo Alto. The scheme was to move the existing house about sixty feet, which would permit the construction of a new house on the same lot. “House 2″ is this new house. At 3,000 square feet including four bedrooms and baths, it was quite large. Unlike the aesthetic simplicity of “House 1,” “House 2″ made an effort to relate to the context of its neighboring Spanish revival houses on either side, which were of the same era. It was designed in a quiet variation of Spanish revival. After completion of “House 2,” it was sold, as was the existing house. Because of the owner/contractor arrangement there was no record of the original cost but, in 2010, “House 2″ was sold for $2,400,000 and is now estimated by Zillow at $2,850,000. 

 

“House 2″ in 1985.

 

Left to right: the owner’s existing house that was moved (photographed in 2012), “House 2″ in 1985, and the original neighbor to the right of “House 2″ (photographed in 2012).

 

Whereas “House 1,” with its minimalist approach, has remain largely as it was designed and built, the fate of “House 2″  is far different. About two years ago I passed by  “House 2″ by chance and saw that considerable remodeling was taking place: a Tuscan Loggia had appeared in front of the entry wall. I hoped that this would be the only addition, but when I returned a few months later the remodel was complete. Besides the loggia, the decorative tiles had all been obliterated, the paneled double garage doors had been replaced, two-car width gates had been added, and a mysterious turret had forced its way up behind the entrance. Today “House 2″ looks very different than when it was originally designed and built.

 

Contextual overkill: “House 2″ in 2012.

 

 

Comments

  1. I was fortunate to have grown up in “House 1″, and have fond memories of my years there. As Chris mentioned, it was a simple design. But the nuance and timeless details made it a very special place. Dramatically different from the standard ranch-style homes around it, it claimed its space and made its own statement.
    With few alterations, the house you see in the floor plan is the one that I will remember with fondness. Living with this design for twenty years taught me that difference has value. For that, and much more, I will always be indebted to Chris Arnold.

    > Reply

> Submit

Select filter(s):
02_smaller

Ispirazione

In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.

 

> Read More

Opening_Night_HEADER

The Art of Assemblage

 

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

 

-Richard P. Feynman

 

We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More

391957_10151098224905378_953405842_n

Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer

 

Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More

InvUrb1

Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More

photo_leahnichols_formatted

Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols

 

Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

IMG_5113_copy_sm_formatted

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More

al-gs-trace

TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More

MWprofile

Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day's session. Photo: Michael Willis

Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here. > Read More

Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969”, photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

 

When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More

Max Levy Portrait for Trace SF_credit Rebecca Thaden Photography

Contributor Profile: Max Levy

 

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More

IMG_Banner

Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?

 

Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More

Hogan_headshop landscape

Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan

 

Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More

TPX_header

Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More

Child running home in the destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the hot summer of 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More

Figure 2_607x405

Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013

 

Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

 

“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More