Stuck in Build out

We’re sitting here like everyone else. And I keep thinking of every place I’ve made how so many of them are filled with people o talked with making them about and I’ve probably looked at it more than them in some ways until now. And now they have probably looked at them more than me and I’m in the same boat in way in my house.

at some point soon we’ll build out the interiors that remain bare and partially finished.
I just came upon this image of our closet upstairs and will build that out right away.


Table Talk 2

I’m excited to start making the table finally, picking the marble, sorting out the legs. We’ve had thousands of meals in the space and my sense of it hasn’t changed at all since that last post (after all the space remains unchanged), but I think we’ll go with a lighter stone and maybe keep it more reflective, vs dark and honed.

IMG_1491When we first moved in, no leaves for this old table.

DSCF1360We’ve made do in the meantime with a sheet of plywood, tiresome after a while.

IMG_1356here’s the shape from the sketch I’d made 4 years ago, I’ll have the marble cut this way and edge it like a drop of water.


we’ll surround it with these chairs we got in the meantime:chairs-chairs-iskos-berlin-fiber-chair-wood-base-oak-cognac-silk-leather-1503054484.pngI’ll taper the legs of the table to go with the chairs, in the same oak. The cabinetmaker offered to turn a sample, with this it’ll be easy to get the angle/weight right. When they multiply beneath you get a forest-y feeling, counting the legs and evenly dividing them below I came upon 8 as working best.marbtable1.png

This is an old photo of the lowest most Gingko we planted, truly slow growing but I’m patient.IMG_1399

Well also soon start the deck in back and get to building things we’ve held back on. I’d been thinking of building a house across the street, another on Nantucket, and mainly just working but I’ve missed this and it will be fun to get back on it.

Deck Plan, 620 Frontenac

Table Talk

Finishing up and getting ready to move in I’ve found a creeping “one false move” feeling coming on which I need to resist. It’s easy in building for someone else to constantly strive for excellence while crossing many bridges of decisions, mostly the emphasis is on stamina and persistence through the details to keep everything on course. I’m finding in finishing one’s own place you can give in to exhaustion, the way the 25th push-up of a set is extraordinarily difficult. The mentality of that preset limit/goal brings on a cliff of exhaustion. With a house you want that breather but at the same time not have everything get conceptually leaky as a result. I’m thinking of approaching the spaces one piece at a time, I’ve immediately focused on the emptiest and largest space where the dining table will be.
For a while I’d had in mind a potato shape:


There’s an asymmetry to the fixed window and folding door setup and the room:

View from stair

View from Living Room

Permit Plan View Imagine the oval rotated about 30 degrees clockwise.
The door now swings in the other way and leaving that “closet” out gives us a mini vestibule/niche in which to enter.
Heading in from the door one looks diagonally towards the light in the corner, this view mimics the contour of the land. The sunken living room feels related to the surrounding landscape, sitting 18″ below the door. This traffic-y side might make sense straighter than the other, more of a belly, being fuller towards the view.

The other thing I have in mind is the reflective potential of the table surface to increase the panoramic view’s height.
I want to use a veined black marble that’s both deep and reflective:

Black Marble
I can see it honed half-dull to resemble a reflecting pond.

I love this rendering of Herzog and deMeuron of their Serpentine Pavilion with Ai Wei Wei:

Serpentine Pavilion Aerial Rendering Herzog and deMeuron 2012 London (drawing HdeM)

Beneath the watery roof was a cork underworld tracing the geometries of past pavilions:

Serpentine Pavilion Herzog and deMeuron 2012 London photo by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion (reflection of the Gallery Building in the Roof/Pond)
I admire their work for consistently original and innovative geometries and how they make use of endowed meaning in materials, appealing to all senses: here the cork resembles dirt and creates a quiet cove.

I’ve made a lot of built-ins for clients in the past and some freestanding furniture and always appreciate the ability to maximize the space which comes with that work. In the Red House my clients asked for a table with drawers so their two kids could do homework there:

Plan and Side Elevation, Red House (Karaszewski) Table 2004

Bottom View of Drawers, Red House (Karaszewski) Table 2004

Red House (Karaszewski) Table 2004 photo by Iwan Baan

It was fun to both pattern the top and bottom for the drawers and the multifaceted skirt which would support them. I also liked the umbrella-like stand. The furniture maker did a great job with it all, in solid walnut, with wood glides and it has a very substantial quality. I love round tables, so that was good too, and the drawers reminded me of the pull-out desks which we had in the Harkness Tables at Exeter. I especially remember an English class when the guest-for-a-semester teacher declared the importance of the oval setup: it was meant to place us all on a peer level, to please call him by his first name Jerry, and we did. It was amazing what that sense of constant eye contact (vs forwards facing rows) and our continuous shared edge did to encourage more presence and participation.

Harkness Table 1930 (courtesy DRDimes)

There are a couple of models of tables I particularly like including the Saarinen oval ones though the shape is too slender (an arrangement in the middle would tend to crowd it, especially with food there as well) and because it is symmetrical, it would emphasize the wrong spots (the negative space between the table chairs and the windows would appear more peculiar and figural, my hope is to shape that to be less so):

Saarinen Oval Table– Pedestal Collection, Knoll 1958 (in white base with walnut veneer top)

Saarinen Oval Table– Pedestal Collection, Knoll 1958 (in black base with black marble top)
The pedestal is most remarkable in these- anything but a central support would somewhat defeat the freedom of placement of seats along the perimeter. I like the idea of the three of us eating close together at an end, or one of us having a project and room to spread out on the far side. It doesn’t seem given the differing end exposures they’d have the same radius curve, I can imagine wanting to sit with our back to the LR and gaze out to the canyon.
I like these Saarinen chairs as well:

Saarinen Executive Armchair Knoll 1950
The idea of this being almost equally a lounge space is very appealing. And though I made the chairs in the Red House above I think the fluidity of these and the slenderness of the legs would be good for our space.

Back to the oval- I also have this image in the back of my head- the oval top from a Lightship Basket my mom had growing up, there’s something particularly stout about the ends that I like:

Lightship Basket (maker unknown) Nantucket circa 1960’s

These irregular ovals trigger memories of Arps, their lopsided fullness conveys optimism, playfulness, bounty, and feels right for our table:

Untitled Jean Arp 1964 (painted wood)

Soleil Recercle 1 Jean Arp 1962 (woodcut)

This morning I pasted together some paper we’re using for packing and was able to draw in situ. It’s great to draw with your whole body, something I’m going to do in the garage with its large space and ample lighting. As I walked around the edge sketching I couldn’t help but inflect to the surroundings. For a first shot it both confirmed my hunch and seemed reasonable. Next steps will be to cut it out of plywood (which i’ll cover with a dark gray glossy paint to get reflections) then use our much smaller existing 54″ round table as a temp base. I love the idea of living with it and adding or subtracting as it feels right over time. If with wood one measures twice cuts once I’m thinking I’ll triple that for the eventual marble top.

Table from the Doorway
I like what’s happening here where the foreshortening causes the much flatter left side to appear mostly symmetrical with the curvier right side, and the ends seem almost identical.

Table from the Stair
I’ll extend the “frame” of that picture window perpendicular to its left corner in a Joel Shapiro-ish way- having it work both as a backstop to the couch cushion and a gentle curb in case anyone retracts too quickly from the table.

Table from the Living Room
From the other end the taper makes it seem a bit longer, and possibility most asymmetrical.
I’m sure it’ll work itself out just being there. For now this is 5′-5″ wide and 8′-6″ long- I’d like to maximize the use of the marble slab (which 65″ wide does)- it could be longer but I think it’d be getting to something pointy and we need that room on either end to move around.

C of O(MG day 877)

Street View February 20, 2014
Here’s what the house looked like after I got the final sign off today from our building inspector. I’m thrilled- more about the permitting process later, but I can’t be happier with the sense of relief and finality it brings. Along the way there are all sorts of unpredictable events, and some of them are brought on by various criteria that are somewhat malleable or at best contingent. Only at this point can I really breathe a sigh of relief and entertain the possibilities of where to spend the funds that remain. For now I’m all for a provisional occupation. We’ve tired of our tiny place I’ve lived in forever, and it’s quite thrilling to be able to occupy (and in the best way more fully critique) my work at leisure.

Sunset Beyond Rome
I’d been installing some handrails and a sort of displacement box in the gutter between the finished stairway and the solid railing and saw this glow beyond through the guest room window. It’s really quiet up there which is a big change from our present place only a couple of doors from the oldest freeway in America. I’m eventually going to yank it out and put in a glass strip to let light into the basement stair from the skylight above. I’m looking forward to studying all manner of light and sound in the days to come.

Here are the stairs with the rail:

and then with the beginnings of the “box” that will fill that gap for now (it’s now covered in plywood):

I much prefer it without.

And a picture from our son’s bunk bed of the reflection down the hallway to our room:

and one from the guest bath of the hallway:

and a last one from the street:

Warmth and Rift Sawn White Oak

I’ve had the heat on for several days now. Once the gas went in Howard (our plumber) came back that following Monday and bled an air bubble out of the system that had been halting our domestic hot water heater.

In the meantime I’d been doing the same with the air in the radiant heat loops, especially those of the upper floor. Very nerve-wracking as I’d had them pressurized for months and was quite confident they weren’t leaking, but when the water gauges register nil it makes one wonder.

My wife got a large hose and we ran water out of all these loops (the air dammed them and once gone water flowed), nine in all there’s at least a quarter mile of it where the bubbles could be hanging around.

Two Views of the Radiant Array

The splash sounds of when they finally all started flowing:

Gallons Per Minute Gauges in Action
These red lines are labeled by room- I think this is our bedroom and the guest room. The moment the air fully left and the levels stopped hopping Fantasia style I knew we were good. With the dials at these gauges you can sort of trim the sails of the heat, I think it’ll be pretty easy to get it just right.

Now days later we’ve been keeping the place warm, acclimating the wood to heat and possible movement. I’d wanted to wait in case anything went wrong and feel especially good about it now after speaking to our guy laying down the floor.

The sensation walking in the door, in addition to the odd warm dusty smell of heated drywall powder, is one of enveloping warmth. It’s pretty great- not the hot dry air I’m used to but it’s as if the moisture normally in the air is very present, almost a bird-conservatory sort of feel without being hot or damp. And it may be with the distorted sense the sudden warmth gives but it seems like the rooms hold the heat well- when opening the door to the porch or balcony it doesn’t feel like a swift departure of heat, hard to explain but more of an air-curtain-y feeling at the opening.

Here’s a comparison of radiant vs. convective heating systems:

Radiant Diagram via Autodesk Sustainability Workshop
Not only does it seems like a better choice for higher ceilings, but I read that the thermostat was set at 6 or 7 degrees lower in the radiant room of a room by room comparison of different heat types to attain the same level of comfort. Now the gas is on I’ve done a couple of loads of laundry there and some dishes. The sudden utility the gas brings is a bit like an easily prepared meal after camping.

Julio, our flooring contractor, was scheduled to come this morning about two weeks after this initial heat. In preparation over the weekend I was moving some boards around to look at patterns and direction. I’ve always enjoyed patterning, the way textures give different queues and thought it would be easier here but was left with a bit of a binary choice:

Boards Parallel to the Big Window

I intuitively liked this- the boards being square to the window gives it a privileged tack, but in order to go this route we’d have to transition somewhere or have a forced wonkiness to the kitchen- basically the 21 degree turn of the road to the lot lines would be writ largest across that small space. Part of patterning is just to make it all seem “normal”.1 This reverberation of the roadway’s skew might be interesting theoretically but I think would just feel forced. And the same skew would be present from the front door which feels odd. Lastly the stairs would seem to be sliding on this skew. None of this “activity” seems to be emphasizing anything interesting. It’ll only read against the window, the cut edges butting into it, but in fact most of this will be obscured by our dining table and chairs.

Boards Skewed to the Big Window
Here they’ll be normal to everything else. This is what we’re doing.

View Down Dusty Stairs
While thinking of the main floor I ran up and down the stairs to see if an afterimage of the pattern above would influence anything. It didn’t really. I’ll have the pattern at the landing continue “vertically” i.e. perpendicular to the stairs down to it.

View Up Stairwell
It seems the more regular everything else is the more you can see the angles.
It got me thinking about the rest of the cabinetry, and making it of the same rift sawn white oak eventually. I came across Melnikov’s house again:

Konstantin Melnikov Melnikov House 1927-1929 Moscow (photos by Richard Pare 2012)
Here, in his studio,  the pattern of the floor is calming and brings your eye to the spectacle of the windows, and i think the muted palette is also effective.

Rift Sawn White Oak Up Close

Julio asked me if I’d looked through the wood to see if there were any stinker boards in there or any special attention he should be mindful of. In this case I usually cede to the professional- either I’d be there hand selecting each and every piece or need to step back which is all I’ve time for now. The wood by and large is very uniform. I like the way the grain connotes the Mission style furniture here in the Arroyo while the color in its honey straw paleness is good and light (unlike that heavy stuff). We’ll finish it with a transparent water based stain meant to keep the raw look intact.

Stair Tread
I was disappointed in these when I got them. The 7 1/2″ wide boards would seem to merit something similar for the treads, but this is what we’ve got so I’m not going to sweat it. Julio noticed too but kept it to himself until I addressed his initial question about the lot.

More pictures to follow upon installation.

Bunk Sketch
Eventually we’ll have a loft2 in our son’s room to free up floor space, and immediately we’ll cobble together some IKEA stuff to move in. But mid term I’m thinking of getting a table saw set up in the basement and making some cabinets- this is a double bed/single bed/wardrobe to fit in the corner. If it were of the same oak as the floors it’d be less busy than the pattern suggests.

1 Of course the point of making it look “normal” is to de-emphasize the skewed forms. I think the biggest mistake all the formalist emulators of Frank Gehry make is this lack of understanding of the fundamental structure/armature underlying the peripheral “moves”. And the same goes for those who see his work as primarily “wacky”- the dismissiveness prevents them from appreciating the underlying rigor. Disney Hall is likely his best riposte.

2 I made this loft for our friends’ kids and I’ve enjoyed seeing them grow up with them and hang out up there with their friends as young adults.

Red House Loft (photo by Iwan Baan)

Gas Filled

I was told on Monday that the day after Christmas the gas company needed me to be available to install the meter.
I couldn’t believe it. But I could, because I was very tired of dealing with more of the disparate database that makes up the city and it’s tangle of rules. I was done, and then they were ready and it was great.
I drove over early from our Beverly Hills Family Campout to meet the Gas Company guy, and fell asleep in my driveway at 7:00 AM.
Dreaming at 8:40 I heard the van, he got out and told me it’d take an hour to finish. All very straightforward.

The Gas Meter
It was supposed to go on the wall but ends up straddling our the drain from our neighbor’s ugly wall to the right. All of this will be hidden in manzanita eventually and the meter will be read remotely.
I’ve been thinking in calculating costs that each of the utilities ran about 10k and there was a time I wondered about the value of the gas for the stove but can’t really imagine cooking without gas. and we have an additional stub-up for a gas-fired fireplace, which due to shifting codes, was initially thought of has a starter for logs but now those are banned we may just get a self enclosed Jotul model which doesn’t need a flue.
I couldn’t wait to fire it up but had scheduled Carlos to come the following day to hook up thermostats and Howard to initiate the radiant heat but Howard went on vacation and Carlos forgot but managed to recover and get the boilers going.
Warmed air and hot water is a great feeling.
My wife and I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon trying to make the radiant heating work but we never seemed to get the right bleed of the air etc.

Valves for First Floor Zone
The gauges at top read the Gallons Per Minute of the water flow more flow equaling more heat. The caps below contain balls of wax which when heated by the thermostats signal to “turn on” melt allowing the piston to release and open the valve. We’d just been to Disneyland over the break and this array reminds me of 20,000 Leagues and the dialing of gauges and the rushes of air and water the turns deliver feels very submarine-y and more than a little ad hoc. The idea of “dialing it all in” is fun.

This morning I went over early and took a (very deep) bath and got the heat partially running. Howard is coming Monday and can answer any plumbing oriented issues so I think we’ll finish it then.

Street View 10:01 AM
The shadow of the stone pine across the street darkens the bottom while the telephone line’s shadow mimics the silhouette.

Senses of Completion

I was in the building department yesterday, coming off the elevator between 4 different floors with various disconnected tasks in each and getting off in the 7th to make sure or triple verify that the road compliance had been entered and I passed by the guy who’d once run the group, through two retirements of plan checkers on our project, and I told him we were finally done with it and he says
Funny as I’d been thinking of that Leonard Cohen song (and probably more the Rufus Wainwright version which is younger and stronger and clearer and yet the old and broken one is really the one).
Fortunately we’re not totally broken but the entrails of the process could do it to you.
On Tuesday we finally got our Specific Plan Compliance signoff and then Wednesday the road– funny we’d had multiple multiples of inspections of each, all to assure we were doing it according to approved plans but we needed to have an approval in the end to verify that. I kept thinking to myself the rewind is going to be quite difficult from here.
But when those two documents came to my inbox I was positively elated. And it in turn makes the real finishing steps so vivid and meaningful.
One box to check of both the roadwork and the specific plan was dealing with the slope that was essentially aftermath of the construction. Of course there’s a plan and an attitude about site but there’s also the budget draining through the grates of this protracted finish and before making decisive moves I wanted to be sure we could pay for them, immediately. And then there’s work and life in general so the side job of this gets added to a long list of things to do, it’s nice to have clarity about what’s to be done.
Just when I’d thought the road was done the inspector called to tell me we’d need jute netting for the slopes (in order to get the final sign off). After doing it it’s obvious, but when requested it seems like just another burden. The jute netting holds the earth in place, and would seem to mitigate the water runoff by creating a miniature stepped terrace landscape between the draped horizontal cording and the dirt. Given a call and a day between this new implementation deadline I rang up the guys who put in our gingkoes and quickly made a deal to have them return and install this stuff. Sourcing it was a bit problematic, perhaps as rainy season approaches there’s an understandable runup in sales.

Jute Netting Between the Stair and the Curb
The day before Thanksgiving I drove down to Escondido to get the Sunset Manzanitas- these weren’t part of a plan with the city but I thought they may need to be planted for Compliance and good to get them in the ground now in their peak growing time (rainy season ahead here).

Las Pilitas Nursery, Escondido
Here was the field of plants- funny to see coming around a remote deserted bend off the freeway. It had grown in my imagination as I looked for plants and discovered them to be the largest supplier. Tracking them down reminded me of the Hunt brothers and silver as I’d checked the indexes and found a nursery with almost all of them in our state (in the world?) unevenly divided between a north and south outpost. I got 55 of the 75 down south and put them in my car:

Trunkful of Manzanita
I’d thought of getting 45 based on planting them every 4′ on center and the area we’d fill. They advised me this would be the most dense they’d recommend, and even better at 5′ on center. Later when our friends’ gardener was to plant them he suggested closer together, we got 10 more and maybe they’re in the 3-4′ range. They’re supposed to grow 6′ wide and around 4′ high. When I asked the seller how they’d look if planted per their suggestion they said a sort of undulating sea of bush, perfect. We bought so many but we bought at the bottom of the barrel, an army of runts. I asked what waiting for Spring’s new crop would give us and confirmed that these now would be bigger than what we could get then. And they’d be planted.

Leif Frang Villa Lau-Eide Bergen, Norway 1926
I like the way the greenery here is mounding in contrast to the house, which i also like. I’d never heard of this guy until I got a Taschen survey book the other day.

When I brought the sunset manzanitas back to the site and the jute netting was half done and I left them to be planted in their pattern.
Days later it’s rained and they have that wonderful perkiness that just planted plants get when they start setting their roots.
The material you see them in is called “Gorilla Hair” Mulch- shredded redwood that I’m excited to watch decompose. Here was a mountain of it at the nursery which I’d have hired to bring shovels full over if only we lived closer:

Gorilla Hair Mountain Las Pilitas Nursery Escondido, CA

For the moment it looks like instant rich soil:

View From Balcony Down Past Porch and Stairs to Street

And I’m excited to turn our focus inward and get working on our couch:

Couch Sketch (Green Corduroy)

A View Up the Stairs
I used a bonderized stepped flashing as an edge to contain the mulch from weeping onto the street. Thus far it’s held, though there’s been plenty of wind advisory in the air.

A View Down

Making Calls


Ready to Pour

2:15 Tuesday Afternoon
Tuesday they were wrapping up the formwork for Thursday’s delivery of concrete. There was a 40% chance it’d rain all day, but mostly it just held itself in, heavy in the clouds. I’ve enjoyed tracking the sun through the seasons and recording different shadows- now as we head into winter, seeing these October shadows on our house for the first time I like the mid afternoon triangle recesses into the garage doors. We’ll eventually do something better with the doors here- I think for now I just may paint out all the exposed unfinished wood with silver, and old Neutra trick that’s cheap and easy.

Blue Skies and Morning Sun
I’m not sure whats happening with this odd “artifact” of shading in the photo, some digital debris. I like the way these galvanized garage doors take on more or less of a gray tone depending on how their silver catches morning or afternoon light- here fading towards the whiteness of the house.

Foot of the Stairs
I worked out this bottom step with Florino. The alignment of the drive that I’d thought would be best at the metal edge of the return to the opening didn’t align of course with the concrete (the metal is layered on top of plywood and studs, missing that margin by over 2″), so we aligned the angle of the step with the concrete edge. I hate discrepancies like these, the product of not entirely assembling it on paper before executing in the field- I’m glad it’s on my own house rather than a project out in the world. It’s not a big deal and the plants I assume will cover this edge in the end. I also don’t like the blunt termination of the siding at the left- my reasoning at the time was we may have a planter there that catches the roof drains that pass through the side of the house. We’ll do that, and probably make it out of railroad ties or concrete to make sense of the abrupt square edge- I prefer the other side which is diagonal and somewhat knew that when I okayed this. Executing details requires a lot of stamina, it’ll be easier the next time I do this for ourselves, having a sense of where and when (not) to yield. Steadfastness seems more easily mustered on behalf of another person or cause than when the object of a demand is one’s own satisfaction.

Field Sketch for Elevation of Landings
This is actually RFI18- a funny thing this nomenclature when I’m the owner/contractor/architect. I’m preparing a Request For Information for myself. It’s handy to have these 8 1/2 x 11’s and pass them in the field. A lot easier to consider than deep within a rolled set of drawings (or as one contractor noted to me a while ago, suggestions). The curb elevations indicated are for the water meter to set flush in the curb, long before we had a curb. It all worked out very well though and the driveway is ending up a very straightforward shape and completely reasonable 10% slope.
My goal with these stairs was to make something solid and permanent which ultimately will read as a secondary path, I look forward to the landscape growing in and the edges of the steps being blurred. The angle of the stairs in plan is just what played out to align with the underlying slope. One can always do this with topographic surveys and the rise and run flexibility of the staircase, sort of accordion-ing along the ground to accommodate the slope, but it’s terrific when it actually works out. The rise of 5 1/2″ and the run of just under 14″ gives these a gentle feeling and I think over time their concrete-ness will contribute to a general feeling of solidity. It’s my hope that the manzanita, requiring no water after the first year, will help to preserve the slope and at some point there’ll be a real sense of embedment to the overall construction. We’ll have to research the plant matter for under the porch, perhaps there’s some extremely low water (read:condensation) ferns or the like that can live there.

The way the stair lands on the driveway at a bias can cause that bottom riser to be wedge-shaped, a deeper step on the downhill side. The guys as they were forming the steps suggested ramping up on the far side (where it would go from say 5 1/2″ to 8″ otherwise) and inside I was cringing at the idea of another little bit of static, wondering how another frill keeps your mind from the bigger picture. And the bigger picture looks funny to me now. I always enjoy rigorously working the program and the gift of form that gives- often you’ll end up with a shape that has a personality and I enjoy that as compared to preconceiving some feeling. Street-bound houses inevitably present a face to passersby, and the fewer and more abstract the windows the more one can read personality into it.

Kreuzberg Tower and Wings John Hejduk Berlin 1988

Object/Subject John Hejduk (from the Riga Project) 1985
The facade is evoking some Hejduk to me now (in its chunky deliberate form devoid of many traditional markers) and I always admired that he had the gumption to not only draw such funny funky stuff but actually got it built too. I was in Berlin just as this was built and the wall was coming down, February after that October, and ambling about checking out all the IBA work while thinking of living there. The funny thing is as playful as it may appear he actually seemed to get at the ur-spirit of the place, it had some kind of certainty in scale and disposition that was very un-cartoony. Berlin, with its blueprinted scaffolding (actual full-scale drawings of the thing happening beyond) seemed like an ideal spot for one just out of school, which I’d be the following year, but after the wall came down the lack of housing (or easily findable pre-internet foreign country housing) proved daunting, so my Goethe Institut to learn German and read Rilke in the original word-train-car language while making some bread and butter money in an office flush with government housing work plan never happened.
Instead I came out to Los Angeles, with a plan to work on Disney Hall, and eventually succeeding:

As a Stand-in for a Cover Shot (discarded Polaroid, unknown photographer)
We’ve just had the 10 year anniversary of it, and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Frank speak a couple of times, once in the hall about the continuing ideas of adding some vitality to Grand Avenue, and another evening with Esa Pekka Salonen at the Hammer on the genesis of the hall. The following week, Paul Goldberger interviewed Frank up north at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. I’m excited for his biography, Paul seems to get by Frank’s curmudgeonly exterior and to his warm center. I tried to dig up some photos we’ve socked away: groundbreaking for the garage when we were working on the hall, thinking it’d be built right away, some Getty archive shots of the office, but this is all I found. Rooting further can wait until we move. Or maybe the 25th anniversary.

Views of Skews (form the top landing around the corner and down to the driveway)
From the balcony at our bedroom you can see the way the stairs angle in relation to the house. The insistent regularity of the risers plays off the corrugations and the slots in the wood deck. From my office beginnings drafting in the eighties I enjoyed twirling my pencil to get the finest line, and the control in repeating these tight to one another over and over. Moreso than liquid materials, I think ones which register striation give a sense of work, craft, and an easier opening for appreciation. Now that we’re almost out-of-the-way in terms of the normal neighborhood disruption due to construction, everyone seems to be a lot nicer in passing. I think these lines have something to do with that.

Driveway from above
You can see the curious omission of rebar in the front part of the driveway. The conditions of that work were spelled out by the city (the first 4′ of it is property we’ve given over to the roadway). They don’t want any reinforcement in it, perhaps someone determined it’d then be easier to remove. Also the finish of the drive is mandated to be a wood float rotary finish. I’d wanted it to be broom finish, to match the stairs, and preferred that smoother quality over the rough swirly pattern that reminds me of bad stucco. It clearly would remain cleaner, and I guess I always think of athletic courts and ballgames to be played on them when I’m seeing broad swaths of concrete laying down. I researched studies for slip resistance of the two and broom came out on top, but If we wanted the broom finish we’d have to petition the city, in turn they’d issue us a revocable permit. Those couple of words had me quickly swallowing the bitter pill of this unwanted texture.

Ground Level Views of Driveway
A last decision was where to locate the control joints. Per the city the largest expanse of concrete can be 15′ wide, our driveway is 20′. The obvious choice is to split it in the center, but when I discussed this with Orville he seemed to be leaning towards the roughly 10′ x 10′ pattern he’d done within the garage (and the length is more like 14′ to the street). The idea of another grid on top of and contrary to this pattern wasn’t doing anything for me so I quickly suggested diagonals in each quadrant. Sleeping on it I realized I didn’t care for the nudge at the foot of the stair to the street, and realized we don’t need it (the concrete will crack anyway- the idea is these contain the cracking but it’s fool’s game to claim they’d contain them all- in fact Orville said he’d promise no cracks only with a 2′ grid, denser than the wider spread of the rebar at the upper right corner), so only the straight line in the middle will remain.

Skylight Views
As with the exterior I’m getting a first round through of fall light in these openings. Can’t wait to move in and track it all day.

Networking Rosemary
I’m still in mini-espalier mode with these plants, and as they begin to interconnect, the end game of one big bush draws nearer. I love the merging pattern, reminding me of circuit boards:

An early Hand Drawn (with solder) Circuit Board (aka Flip Chip Back) from 1967

Yesterday they poured:

A View Down

A View Up

From the Street
They did a terrific job. It’s a neat coda to have the guys who were there when the first hole was dug return to finish up. The home stretch is finally coming into view.


As part of the Specific Plan for Mt. Washington, the community in northeast Los Angeles where we’re building this house for ourselves, one’s required to replace any removed trees at a ratio of 1:2.
The eucalyptus that stood on the northwest corner of our excavation seemed precarious already when I read that week of a similar one suddenly taking the life of someone in Costa Mesa. There the city moved swiftly to remove all of them from their downtown.

Our Shaggy Old Eucalyptus
Years ago, while the developer of the spec house to our west was framing it he’d furtively lopped off the side facing him. Perhaps it was to help clear the airspace for framing, perhaps to give an illusion of a larger view temporarily, in any case that along with a very large removal of earth from that side has left me kinda sore. In my practice I’ve heard all kinds of theory about property rights, usually of the rights of one party extending beyond their deeded boundary: trimming neighbor’s trees, adverse possession of others’ property, etc. so I’m compelled to occasionally research the current codes in case any might have shifted. With trees one should never cut a neighbor’s tree, just alert them that it’s growing on your property and allow access for maintenance of that incursion or suggest a long-term solution, though that maintenance responsibility unless otherwise agreed is still the tree owner’s job. One might expect cities to require Eucalyptus removal upon improvement similar to road paving/improvement, but apparently the immediate positives they bring as large trees offset concomitant hazards of toppling and flammability.

I’d had in mind building a screen to both contain our “yard” and give us some privacy from this boxy guy by our side, and researched ginkgoes after seeing this beautiful stand of them at my favorite spot in Huntington Gardens:

Huntington Gardens Gingkoes (recent picture from over the weekend)

Huntington Garden Gingkoes (in Japanese Zen Garden, via Alice’s Garden)
I love their color and the sense of season it gives. A friend said they’re property managers’ favorites as they drop all the leaves on a single day. And in spite of my annoyance at the improper siting of the neighbor with an orientation across our property, as if the possibility of building there didn’t exist, I did want to use something that will afford some transparency for them, say as compared to an evergreen, or a solid stand of cypress.

So in the next to last scheme I came up with before building this house, we established a line of trees parallel to the west property line:

Plan Scheme 8 Fall 2008

Axonometric Scheme 8 Fall 2008
This scheme was sort of hastily put together as time was winding down on getting started. I’d significantly reduced the square footage from the prior approved plans in hopes that the costs would fall as well. We’d gotten a bid for the previous scheme’s foundation (only) which exceeded $210,000, and it seemed if there wasn’t radical change the project might not happen.

Street (South) Elevation Scheme 6 Spring 2006

East Elevation Scheme 6 Spring 2006

The older scheme had a two-story retaining wall. It seemed reducing that by making a plinth of the second level, and therefore putting the main public spaces closer to the ground (and also eliminating a pool, etc.) would sharply lower costs. When I sent Scheme 8 to my engineer, Gordon Polon, he said “Padraic, aren’t you trying to make it cost less? It seems like you’ve just redistributed the walls across the site.” He was right. And I’m thankful for it, at that point I was willing to punt a bit, and it made me redouble my effort and eventually decide that if I was to expend all the physical energy necessary to make it happen I shouldn’t corner myself into some description dependent on compromise: “Well I did this because of that…”- I’m happy the constraints so emboldened me.

House 8, Entry Path
Here was the lawn we envisioned which would establish a territory in front of our house (or a deep zoom exaggeration of one- a central flaw in the diagram- after all the distance of a free throw does not a meadow make). By this time we’d decided to turn our back to the stale melba confection to our east, and it seemed like with the great savings we’d gain from making the building almost pre-fab (with SIPS panels!) we could afford to retain this higher ground. No longer would we experience the chasm between the imposing box to our left and our house, thereby relegating this “side yard” to transit only space, but we’d have a “lawn” from which we could foresee watching movies projected against the upper retaining to the left here.

House 8, Street Elevation
Another aspect of the scheme I liked was the overlapping of the windowsill line extending to the west to retain this lawn, and the garage door header to the east to shut off that alley. These horizontals describe the slope across the street, and suggest extending beyond the site.

Mie van der Rohe Brick Country House 1925
The great part about this drawing is those walls actually extended to the limits of the paper, who knows where/when they’d stop?
The desire for extension seems to come from the same instinct borne out of lookout, gaze, command; an instinctual desire to control the “field of view”-as much a protective response as one to dominate the surroundings.
I enjoyed the contrast in horizontal scale of “outdoor” vision as compared to the re-scaling of vertical indoors, the horizon line and its limitlessness vs. the gravitational measurements of verticals, a column, a tree. I love the inversion that happens enclosing open framing- once diminutive obstructions within a landscape now hold larger space once enclosed and occupied.

Over our regular labor day break camping in Catalina I enjoyed reading Stan Allen’s great collection of essays on Landform Building .
Here’s a great interview by someone a few years ahead of me at RISD, Nader Tehrani, interviewing Stan who also taught there briefly. And Stan Allen’s seminal essay on Field Operations.

View from Shore, Catalina

So about three months ago… these days we’ve been waiting on the road, and its permitting difficulties have blurred the ensuing months together- our friends called to say they’d gotten us a housewarming present. In fact, the following Monday 3 ginkgoes (for the three of us) would be planted by their gardener. What a terrific gift!

The One at the Bottom

Three in a Row

Leaves Up Close
Fun researching them further now they were real- they’d had an auspicious debut here as the tree to grace the plaza of Mies’ Seagram’s tower:

Clipping from New York Times; my own shot from the summer below while in NY seeing the great LC show

Unfortunately, our neighbors of the looming house didn’t seem to love them and immediately suggested we remove them and consult with them on what we would replace them with in response to a note I had written a beforehand to say they were going in. Oh well. Fortunately there aren’t any view ordinances to support the belief that one has purview over another neighbor in our part of town.
Just to be absolutely certain we were fine I did some research and came upon the curious Spite Fence:

Crocker Spite Fence (photo by Eadweard Muybridge 1890)
This guy was so frustrated with his inability to buy up the whole block he built a towering fence around the sole hold-out, pretty extreme. I guess if one plants in response to a neighbor, in an actual effort to spite them, then one can have a case against the planting. But if the owner is doing it for other reasons, like privacy, or thought of the idea before the others actually lived there then there’s nothing to it- so twice covered we won’t worry about it and hope they’ll like them at some point.
Perhaps part of their concern was looking at some erroneous info at how tall they’d get later. When I asked a gardener to diagnose an ailing leaf:

Ginkgo in Distress
He said that their grandchildren’s grandchildren probably wouldn’t see them 50′ tall. This leaf is in shock, but just form transplantation. He said this tree may very well do better than the others in years to come what’s it gets over the initial stage.
I’ve watched these ones planted near my office in South Pasadena over the last 7 years and I expect the ones we’ve planted will take ’til our son’s in college to occlude our view of their place.

Mission Street Ginkgoes

This lack of immediate satisfaction and growth, and though of being limited in our response for privacy took a few days to sink in and finally I realized, wait a second, why don’t we just build a fence in the meantime?

Fence (or me holding an 8′ 2×4 along our property line)
So I looked up in the code to verify our right to an 8′ tall fence on the side yard and then had my wife shoot pictures of me carrying that length 2×4 up and down the line. The thought of privacy, and the decisive diagonal which will create it got me excited. And, of course, immediately reminded me of Running Fence but it’s more gestural and may have more in common with a Serra in a field (and I like the idea of it not necessarily containing anything, as the view for now beyond the house isn’t so bad):

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76 Photo by Wolfgang Volz

Richard Serra Schunnemink Fork 1991 Storm King Mountainville, NY

All of this made me think of “good fences make good neighbors”:

He is all Pine, and I’m all Apple Orchard!

The road is finally done, and we are in the home stretch forming the site stairs:

Completed Road, with Asphalt Berm on Far Side
I’m a bit surprised how happy this seems to make a lot of the walkers who used to cross the old road. I tell anyone I can I’d rather have had the money fix the roads more cars travel on, the potholed roads up to school, and I mainly get silent smiles in return.

This last bit of concrete flatwork has brought Orville back with his great crew of Moises and Luis, and Luis’ oldest brother Florino who I’d never met before- he’s the senior man of the crew, with a hard hat in the upper right of the photo (their boss Orville has shades on). He and I both moved here in 1990, experiencing those consecutive years of flooding, fires, the riots, and a 6.9:

Luis Measures for the Landing

The Stairs Up
I like the way the diagonal relates to the roofline.

The View Downstairs
Leaving from our front door. That awkward jog will look better when the lines of the steps intervene.