September 20, 2013
Greenbaum House Image by Steven K. Alspaugh
Homes are expressions of our individualities. The home emerges out of the ground wrapping around the space we need to lead a comfortable life. Comfort has a direct correlation with the climate. Following our individual expression, it is the climate that is the primary determinant of the home design and construction. Exploring the mid-century modern architecture, the AIA Committee on Design (COD) held its annual Spring Conference at Palm Springs, CA on May 9-12, 2013. The conference led us to many homes built between 1930s to current date in this desert climate. I was one of the two lucky winners of the COD Knowledge Scholarship, and was able to avail the opportunity of being a part of the tremendous conference through the generous support of couple donors.
Palm Springs is a unique city located off the major arteries of Los Angeles region, sitting on a detour between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The city was born and put on the map when celebrities travelling between LA and LV would leisure at Palm Springs having a good time away from the tourist traffic. The practice continues today. This pattern has led to many homes away from homes in Palm Springs. We toured many of the luxurious residences and other prominent projects during the COD conference. The architects of the projects we visited included Albert Frey, Palmer & Krisel, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, Stewart Williams, William Cody, Jim Jennings, Marmol & Radziner, O2 Architecture, Ana Escalante, and Frederick Fisher. We had the privilege of hearing from William Krisel, Jim Jennings and Fred Fisher, among others.
Responding to the local climate, each home we visited had a large private swimming pool, which seemed to be a checklist item for all construction in Palm Springs. Each project also made the best use of the surrounding views, so much so that one forgot the house while looking out. Of all the projects we saw, I was immediately taken by the Greenbaum House designed by Ana Escalante, completed in 2006. This is a residence where the boundary between the outdoor swimming pool and the large living room completely melts, a house where the individuality of the owner shines, and a house that begins to speak to the Palm Springs climate.
Entrance to Greenbaum House. Image by Steven K. Alspaugh
The inspiration for the house came from the owner who loves to swim. The initial thought was to design something very environment appropriate, which slowly turned to be exhibitionist as well. The house expresses the individuality of the owner by bringing the outdoor swimming pool at your face as soon as you enter the house. The entrance of the Greenbaum House is sunken, approached by a sloping ramp from the street level culminating at a shaded outdoor vestibule. One enters the living room directly facing the swimming pool beyond the concrete wall with punched openings.
During our visit, once we absorbed the blue glow of the light coming from the pool filtering into the living area, we were surprised by the sudden appearance of the owner waving at us from the pool. We found ourselves drawn immediately to the glass wall separating the pool from the living room. Only after exploring the pool did we take in the rest of the space. The effect is mesmerizing to the first time visitor.
Living Room Wall’s Punched Openings to Swimming Pool. Image by Deepika Padam
Owner Swimming as Seen from Living Room. Image by Deepika Padam
This house is about the pool, built around a pool, engulfing the pool, exhibiting the pool, with the owner almost living in the pool. But the pool was not just meant to be a pool during the design phase. It was imagined that because the pool will stay at 70 to 80 degrees temperature throughout the year and the windows between the pool and the living space are well insulated, it will help control the temperature within the house. But the owner jokes today that it is similar to being in a plane at 42,000 feet and mistakenly thinking that those plane windows also insulate. In reality, the Greenbaum house controls temperature well because it is part subterranean and insulated in the superstructure very well. The pool certainly helps keep it cool, yet is not the primary insulator. However, the pool remains the central attraction for everybody. When the owner holds parties at the house, everybody has a lot of fun with the pool and the picture windows, where everybody has taken a Facebook™ picture.
Second Floor Perched Above the Swimming Pool. Image by Deepika Padam
There is more to this house than a beautiful 25m lap pool sunken in the ground. The house is located 500 feet above the valley floor in a gated community with dramatic views of the desert and the city below. “The developer of the community created the home site by leveling the existing natural mountain features. The project carves back into the site as well as hovers over it, in order to restore its original dramatic topographical features.” – Escalante Architects. Not only does the form of the house address the local terrain in this fashion, but it also takes advantage of the natural insulation offered by the ground due to being subterranean. Ample daylight is allowed into the interiors while controlling the heat gain through shutters, projections and canopies. The indoor spaces flow into the outdoor spaces with large glass expanses that open up into terraces. These terraces are used for entertaining guests during the milder temperatures in the evening.
Floor Plans. Source: http://www.escalantearchitects.com
The organization of the house functions is not atypical. The living room seating area steps down following the site terrain and opens up to the valley view beyond. The kitchen and dining area are in the opposite direction with a guest bedroom in the back. The second floor is perched above the swimming pool, crosses over and lands on the detached fitness room alcove on the other side of the pool. The upstairs consists of two separate bedroom suites. Flanked by the two bedroom suites is a small library / seating alcove that opens up to a large terrace fully equipped with barbeque appliances. When you walk out to the back at the mid-level, you are welcomed by the pools. The sunken lap pool provides the illusion of an infinity pool casting a blue glow over the second floor slab above. There is also a separate sauna building adjacent to the fitness room.
Blue Glow from the Pool. Image by Deepika Padam
Pool Image by Marco Garcia from the website of Escalante Architects
At about 4,300 SF, the Greenbaum House is a good size house built in steel frame construction. The owner shared with us that it took about a year and a half of construction time to build the house. The construction had to stop a few times because the engineers wanted to reinforce the living room/pool demising wall with redundancy. So they kept re-engineering it. It is designed to withstand an 8-point earthquake. The glass windows are composed of four layers of glass and four layers of mylar, making them a total of 4.5” thick pane windows. The utility bill, which in the Palm Springs desert could be up to $25,000 a year, is under $100 a month on average for the Greenbaum House with the integrated active and passive solar systems. Standing in the Living Room and pointing to the East wall with punched openings to the pool, the owner is confident that the pool helps insulate along the Eastern edge. He proudly swims every day.
Punched Window Between the Living Room and Outdoor Pool. Image by Steven K. Alspaugh
Left: Sauna Building. Right: Fitness Room Adjacent to the Pool. Images by Deepika Padam
When the house was built, the design team took as many eco-friendly measures as they could at the time. A small token of it is the tile in the pool, bathrooms, etc. made of recycled bottle glass. Using materials and finishes that speak of the desert, the house sets an example for responsible architecture at Palm Springs. It turns out, the house is currently for sale. As the owner spends much of his time in the Bay Area, he has decided to move. When asked what his next house will be like, he says with a smile that it will be smaller.
Left: Blurred Edges. Image by Steven K. Alspaugh. Right: Staircase with Pool Level at Mid Landing. Image by Deepika Padam
Seating Lounge on the Second Floor. Image by Deepika Padam
A majority of the work we visited during the COD conference was done in the 50s. The Greenbaum House is one of the few that is done by a contemporary architect. These custom homes not only express the owners’ individualities, but also the unique design approach to the climatic conditions of the desert and the styles prevalent during the time of construction. The Greenbaum House, although may seem to be a rather usual house with expected functional organization, orientation to views, and response to climate, gets away from the design approach of its Palm Springs predecessors. This is evident in the site manipulation to make it a 3-level residence in essence, and in the use of contemporary measures to environmental control and envelop design. However, the house fails to accomplish many shaded outdoor spaces that some of the older homes at Palm Springs so generously provide. Ultimately it is a functional modern home that could be located in another climate or locality very easily. However, having lived in a desert home for many years myself, the $100 energy bill on average seems quite a feat!
The Owner Sharing his Stories with the COD Group. Image by Steven K. Alspaugh
One of the Suites on the Second Floor. Image by Deepika Padam
The Greenbaum House screams simplicity. It is a simple home that springs from a pool with living spaces suspended above the pool. The interior finishes and furnishings are modern and simple as well along the language of the contemporary desert architecture. It is a place built to entertain with blurred indoor and outdoor boundaries. The house delivers the owner’s desire of focusing on the lap pool. This was the one house we visited during the entire conference where I finally removed my shoes and wet my feet.
Left: Pool as seen from Second Floor Entertainment Patio. Right: Deepika and Dorothy Taking a Break from the Palm Springs Heat. Images by Steven K. Alspaugh
Although Greenbaum House left a permanent imprint on my mind, the whole conference was an eye-opening experience for me. It broadened my perspective for the committee, and I was able to connect with professionals from various spectrums, levels, and backgrounds. COD is a great group to get involved with for emerging professionals and seasoned architects alike. The conference itself is an out-of-the-box experience with the majority of the time spent in visiting architecture instead of talking about it in a freezing conference hall. The work is carefully chosen along the theme for the year. I took the time to enjoy the conference and the great company during the three days, but also stayed in touch with the outer world through my tweets and images. I returned overjoyed, energized and inspired.
Defining Architectural Design Excellence: an AIA Committee on Design Conference, Columbus, Indiana, April, 2012 By John Morris Dixon, FAIA
March 2, 2013
The Committee on Design visited Columbus, Indiana in April, 2012. Click here to read the conference report written by John Morris Dixon, FAIA. Photos courtesy of Jim Childress, FAIA, Ann Thompson and Aaron Trahan.
February 3, 2013
In April, 2012, about 120 members of the Committee on Design went to Columbus, Indiana for our spring conference. Together we explored the architecture of the community, talked with many of the architects who designed the projects, and met with citizens who have been active in championing modern architecture. We also discussed and considered how to measure design excellence. The following film was created by Boaz Ashkenazy and his crew at Studio216 as an overview of what we saw and experienced.
For a guide of the projects we saw, and the people we met, please see the Committee on Design to Columbus, Indiana here.
May 18, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, Committee On Design Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
During one of our afternoon statements on day 2 of the Committee On Design Spring Conference in Columbus, Indiana, I found myself distracted by a comment made by Nancy Rogo Trainer of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. In her remarks on what defines architectural excellence, she noted that our views of architecture, whether deliberate or inadvertent, are formed by our experiences. Many of us architects, in fact, can probably trace our interest in a career in architecture to some experience with buildings that stuck with us throughout our lifetime.
I remember when I was twelve and thirteen years old, my father lived in Hong Kong as a result of his position at United Airlines. Because of this, I was exposed to a more global view of architecture at a very formative age, being able to travel throughout Southeast Asia during school vacations. I remember being fascinated by the skyline of Hong Kong, the hustle of the marketplaces that seemed like endless mazes, the planning strategy of the Forbidden City, and the elegance of the temples and monasteries.
This experience with architecture would later become the foundation of my decision to pursue a career as an architect, and develop a fascination with Asian architecture.
That being said, I pose the challenge to you, to dig into your past and remember one of your first experiences with architecture. I’m sure there are many, however the first one that comes to mind is probably the one that was most influential to you.
May 10, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, COD Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
The AIA Committee On Design Spring Conference began with an opening symposium, hosted by the Indiana University Center for Art + Design. The speakers began discussions during this symposium that became the theme for the rest of the conference: What Is Architectural Design Excellence? Throughout, I made a point of writing down memorable quotes that I felt captured the theme of a moderated discussion or a point that our invited panelists were trying to make.
The conference featured moderated and informal discussions with Susan Szenasy of Metropolis, Will Bruder, architect from Phoenix, Ed Feiner, FAIA of Perkins+Will, formerly with the GSA Design Excellence Program, and Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA of Leers Weinzapfel in Boston. We were also honored to hear from Gunnar Birkerts as well as Ben And Cynthia Weese. In noting these quotes, I chose not to credit a specific person to each one. Throughout the conference, we came to a general agreement that design excellence is not about personal style, trends, or celebrity. So I thought it fitting to consider these quotes a product of our discussions, and credit them to everyone who attended the Spring Conference.
It is interesting to note the progression of our theme through these quotes; they are listed chronologically.
Please feel free to comment on these, choose your favorite, or post one that resonated with you from the conference!
“Pragmatism doesn’t quite raise the hair on the back of your neck”
“Excellence in design makes you want to be there alone and together, at all times of the day”
“What is a building but a series of interior spaces?”
“When the human face is missing, that is not excellence”
“[Excellence] is probably the most overused word after professional”
“[Excellence] is clearly identifiable as an exemplary advancement for its time”
“Architecture is creating the membrane of space”
“An architect takes something circumstantial in our lives and makes it meaningful”
“Architects seem to think that they are the only ones asking the question of excellence”
“Cities are made more of background buildings than foreground buildings”
“Excellence is lyricism through complexity of situations”
“[Excellence in architecture] is not built, it’s born”
“[Design excellence] is harmony through juxtaposition; you understand the old and you understand the new.”
“When the style is a representation of the larger ideas within that building, then it becomes important”
“Style is a term that we apply retroactively”
“If anyone today sets out to create a style, they probably shouldn’t be practicing architecture”
“Maybe as architects we think we are more important than we really are”
“Having core principles about the way you work is essential”
“The cross disciplinary intent of [the younger] generation is powerful”
“Architecture in Columbus is a visual expression of community values”
May 10, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, AIA Committee On Design Knowledge Scholar
The theme of the Committee on Design Spring Conference, “Defining Architectural Excellence”, is one that cannot be defined, drawn, or planned, it can only be born, experienced, and described. Over the next few weeks, I hope to draw conclusions from the conference, in a series of posts that will highlight the overarching themes from our symposia, panels and intimate discussions.
As architects, our clients expect 100% design excellence, no matter what the scale or the budget of the project. This, I believe, is achievable because scale and budget do not determine architectural excellence.
Excellence requires a complex balance of the pragmatic and the poetic, which throughout history has been on a pendulum scale. Currently, I believe that we are near the center point of that scale, which is unfortunately headed in a more conservative, more pragmatic direction. Economy and conservatism have slowed the progression of design excellence in the United States, especially in comparison to European and Asian design culture.
Throughout the series of posts ahead, I hope to further define and analyze design excellence, while also drawing some conclusions from my experience in Columbus. I look forward to continuing the theme of the conference with those of you who joined me, as well as those who are interested in discussing this theme further.
May 3, 2012
By Sheena V. Enriquez,
COD Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
This April, I spent four days in Columbus, Indiana for the 2012 Spring AIA Committee on Design Conference. This was my first AIA Conference and the second time I have travelled to see the built works in Columbus. The conference’s theme was “Defining Architectural Design Excellence.” From the various informal and formal discussions that occurred during the conference, at least one definition of architectural design excellence stood out to me:
“Architectural design excellence is the constant search for excellence.”
Always strive for something better. Stay curious. Keep trying to find the joy in work. Throughout the conference, I was surrounded by professionals who had accomplished many great things in their long careers. Yet, they were just as awestruck as I when first entering the chapel inside of Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, just as eager to crowd around Gunnar Birkerts and Ben and Cynthia Weese at the Hotel Indigo to hear them chat, and more than willing to run across a busy street just to look at Fire Station No. 4 up close!
I have been out of architecture school for one year now, and there were some things that I thought I would have to leave to behind when I graduated. My experience during those four days in Columbus taught me that the journey ahead can still be full of rich and fulfilling experiences – just as long as you are constantly searching for excellence.
Participating in the Committee on Design Spring Conference was deeply enriching, and I hope to share more memorable lessons learned in the blog posts to come. I also hope to encourage those of us newer to the profession to see the value in participating in events organized by the AIA Committee on Design. Nowhere else have I encountered such a large, enthusiastic group of people who are eager to support the next generation of architects.
May 1, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, COD Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
In our opening symposium of the Spring Conference, Ed Feiner, FAIA made a bold statement that “[excellence] is probably the most overused word after professional” in today’s society. He wasn’t just talking about architecture either, everything is “excellent” these days, he said.
This may speak to younger generations not using proper adjectives to describe something, or our inability to be as critical as we could/should be. As a product of Gen-Y, I would have to agree with his statement. This poses the question, architecturally speaking, is the term “excellence” overused?
The most memorable conversations from the Spring Conference were those where disagreements occurred in what is and is not excellent. Is excellence too subjective to truly be used properly? Or are these debates that we had over Venturi and Rauch’s Fire Station No. 4, and the Hotel Indigo, what is missing in architectural discourse?
This isn’t to say that architectural criticism is absent from our culture, however I believe that we must remain critical in order for architects to be innovative and progressive. Remember what it was like when you were in school, and a “bad” review could leave you or your classmate in tears? Remember how much that criticism motivated you to refine or completely rethink your design?
Those critics that you loved to hate, were the people who gave you a reality check as an architect, not everything is excellent! So I ask you again, and please leave comments, is “excellence” overused in architectural discourse?
Defining Architectural Design Excellence in a Measuring Society with Will Bruder, Tom Fisher, Ed Feiner, Jane Weinzapfel, Susan Szenasy, Anne Schopf
Join us at the AIA National Convention in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
The AIA Committee on Design (COD) is focused in 2012 on seeking definitions of architectural design excellence. Five prominent leaders of our profession have spent the past 10 months discussing and searching for those definitions. The definitions are important because they will allow architects to more clearly explain the value of their work to their clients and because architects will develop a greater shared understanding of architectural excellence and a greater ability to judge their own work as it develops. In addition, the presenters hope that attendees will contribute their own ideas. A related conversation is already under way in the COD Discussion Forum on the AIA.org Web site—a discussion that will continue long after this event. All architects invited to join that conversation.
Will Bruder is well known for his work in the southwest, and with projects now further afield brings an international perspective to the discussion. Tom Fisher is Professor of Architecture and Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. He has taught, lectured, and written extensively about architecture over the last few decades. Ed Feiner was the instigator and leader of the GSD design excellence program and brings insight on how to achieve excellence in public architecture. Jane Weinzapfel, of Leers Weinzapfel, provides a grounded voice in how to design with difficult programs in complex locations. Susan Szenasy, editor of Metropolis Magazine, is not an architect and provides a public point of view on how to judge excellence. Anne Schopf, former Chair of COD and design partner at Mahlum Architects in Seattle will moderate the conversation. It promises to be rich with insightful perspectives and provocative candor.
This workshop is a primary fund-raiser for COD. The fees for this lecture help COD continue to support design excellence through our awards programs, publications, and conferences.
Wednesday, May 16 | 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | Earn 3.75 CEH | Cost $155.00
Register for this event here.