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.
April 5, 2012
The Committee On Design is holding its Spring Conference in Columbus, Indiana April 12 – 15, 2012. COD Chair Mike Mense selected Columbus as part of his year’s theme: Defining Architectural Design Excellence.
Why, after so many years of excellent public and commercial architecture in Columbus, Indiana, are there almost no modern houses?
Why, when you drive north from Florida’s South Beach passing miles and miles of waterfront houses, less than one percent are anything we would call architecture?
Why do Americans drive designer cars and drink designer coffee but live, most all of them, in a house or apartment that is pretending to be the home of some wealthy ancestors long deceased?
Are we determined as a profession to continue to define ourselves in ways that isolate us from the greater part of the society in which we practice?
Can we find some definitions of architectural excellence upon which we can agree and that we can explain successfully to the silent majority? Is it even something we want to do?
The exclusive opportunities for attendees to the Columbus Conference Include:
- The opportunity to meet and converse with many of the national and local architects who have worked in Columbus, Indiana, including Gunnar Birkerts, Ben and Cynthia Weese (representing Harry Weese), Daniel McCoubrey and Nancy Rogo Trainer (representing Robert Venturi), Ralph Johnson of Perkins+Will, Jane Weinzapfel, Kevin Kennon, Carlos Jimenez, Fred Koetter and Susie Kim.
- An open house tour, with personal photography allowed, of the Miller House and Gardens, “America’s most significant modernist house” per Travel+Leisure. The house showcases the collaborative design of leading 20th-century architects and designer: Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard and Dan Kiley. You will be allowed to wander the house and gardens on your own, with docents available for information, instead of the limited guided tours. Personal photography is permitted, not allowed on public tours.
- Meet Will Miller, patron of modern architecture, son of J. Irwin Miller who commissioned the Miller House and started the renowned Cummins Foundation architectural program.
- The Cummins’ Friday evening reception and dinner at the Cummins Corporate Headquarters, designed by Kevin Roche, including tours of the workplace. Dinner provided by Cummins’ executive chef. You will also have the opportunity to meet and dine with Cummins executives and community leaders. Cummins Corporate Headquarters is a secured building and typically not open to the public except for the lobby.
- Tour Cummins midrange engine plant in Walesboro, an innovative sustainable design by Kevin Roche completed in 1973. Cummins facilities are not typically open to the public without special arrangements.
- If you have never been to Columbus, Indiana before, we will visit many of it’s unique collection of over 80 modern buildings, designed by nationally and internationally noted architects, including Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M Pei, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier, SOM and many more. Columbus was ranked 6th in the nation for innovation and architectural design by AIA members. It was ranked 11th by National Geographic Traveler’s on a list of 109 historic locations to visit worldwide.
- If you have previously visited Columbus, but not been back in the last 5-10 years, we will visit many new buildings and experience the ongoing redevelopment of the downtown, designed by noted architects Carlos Jimenez, Ralph Johnson, Deborah Berke, William Rawn, Cesar Pelli, Fred Koetter and Susie Kim.
Another highlight of the day was a visit to the The National Art Center, by Kisho Kurokawa in the Art Triangle of the Roppongi area of Tokyo. On the site of an old army barracks, the building’s glass front meanders around the entry and forms one side of a small urban garden. The other side is enclosed by a modern renovation of a small remnant of the barracks. The curving glass curtain wall, with fritted glass sun shades, seems so simple but must have been a challenge to build. The catwalks on the inside are unfortunate but I assume are required for glass cleaning.
Restaurants, five altogether, include three on top of the concrete cones. The wall between the public lobby and galleries is comprised of back lit glass and fins of wood. The galleries are all lit by indirect lighting in coffers, and are especially bright by western standards. The partitions hang from tracks and sit on adjustable feet so they can be rearranged. I especially liked the exit lights in the floor.
You are all invited to attend the Committee on Design Conference in Japan this November. If Japan has been on your bucket list, this is a great way to see the best-of-the-best architecture in a short time. The conference has been planned by our colleagues in the Pacific Northwest along with their extensive contacts in Japan.
The conference registration is open and the information for the event can be accessed through www.aia.org/craftingthefuture.
Specific highlights of the conference you might be interested in include:
- 10.5 AIA CES (10.5HSW)NWPR Portion, 21.5 AIA CES (9.5HSW, 3SD) COD Portion
- A keynote talk by 2011 AIA Gold Medal recipient, Fumihiko Maki, Hon. FAIA
- An all-day tour of Omotesando, known as the ‘architectural fashion catwalk’ of Tokyo, featuring several fashion flagship stores.
- An all-day tour of Ginza, Tokyo’s exclusive shopping and dining district, and the Tokyo International Forum (Rafael Vinoli, 1996).
- An all-day tour of the Shinjuku district and its concentration of high density business districts.
- A visit to the 21st Century Museum by SANAA as well as the Umimirai Library by Coelacanth K&H Architects, (2011) in Kanazawa.
Speaking from experience these conferences are extremely well organized and full of constant inspiration. Your batteries will be recharged and you’ll come home with some extraordinary memories.
(One way to help limit the cost of travel is to make use of direct flights from cities on the West Coast to Tokyo. Check the Registration page for more travel tips.)