San Francisco Bay Area Studio

For Matt Taylor





Elevation Looking North - February 22, 2000


This Elevation is looking North. It illustrates the basic grammar and many of the features of the building and explicates a number of important design strategies that are essential to executing the Program of the work.

These are:


1. The “high rise” profile - this is essentially a house turned up on end. This changes the entire orientation of the interior experience and the exterior viewpoint.

It, and the cantilevered Superstructure, allows glass walls on “two sides” - or more - in every area and it facilitates fitting each functional area to the exact view, light, weather orientation appropriate to it.

2. The interior Atrium - almost all the spaces will flow into one another, vertically, from the Lower Garden shelter to the peak of the highest skylight. At various places, there will be semi-horizontal “shutters” that can be closed for privacy, sound and temperature control. Many of the platforms cantilever into this Atrium just as they cantilever “outside” the structure. The landscaping that starts at the intersection of the lower garden and the interior of the Studio progresses up this Atrium - and through it - into all of the functional areas. As it does this, it uses progressively more interior plants.

This Atrium provides a variety of different kinds of inside/outside spaces each creating the “frame” for what goes on at this specific place.

3. Tap Root Footing - the Superstructure rests on a cantilevered pad approximately 16 feet in diameter which is supported on a friction pile. All the functional spaces cantilever from the Vertical Core (“terra cotta”/concrete block system) which sits on this pad. Site disturbance as well as the likelihood of structural failure, due to seismic activity, is minimized. On site time “getting out of the ground” is significantly reduced. Future land reuse is simplified. A great deal of the unnecessary foundation work typical of a conventional building is eliminated.

4. The Module System - allows a variety of forms and patterns that can repeat on multiple levels of recursion. From the tile patters to the embossed shapes in the block system, to the shape of major components and the building itself, a recurring, building pattern emerges - like a carpet (see Alexander). Different “levels” of this pattern “read” at different distances. This creates the langugae of the building and the “voice” of its THEME.

Because of the close scalling of these recurring patterns, the patterns never “jump out” as a “design.” The idea is that the patters just “are” - they make up the texture of the surfaces like the grain of wood.

Of course, because basic geometric shapes have traditional meanings, the patterns as they actually reveal themselves, at any part of the Studio, will provide a source for deep contemplation for those so inclined.

The modular system also provides the means to measure and build a building of this complexity. The individual pieces and assembled components will be “lofted” just as a boat is built.

5 Earth Berms and Landscaping - there are three transitions from the building, itself, to the landscape in its “natural” form. Each of these are progressively different landscapes.

In the Lower Garden - inside the earth berms - sun is “trapped” against the block system wall creating a micro climate for growing year around. This is an outdoor-indoor area - the glassed area shown is only partially enclosed. The Lower Garden progresses inside and “up” to the Greenhouse with the formal Entry at the intersection between the two levels. The Lower Garden is a place to sit - water, fed from the cistern below, will feed from it up to the Greenhouse and back down in a gentle waterfall. This area, like the Greenhouse is for intensive cultivation of food and ornamental plants.

The Berms, themselves, are Permacuture - eatable landscape that maintains itself. As indicated on the Sketch, the Berms and block system retaining walls are employed on all four sides of the Studio - less intensively on the west side. Through this means, water is “managed” as it flows through the site, access is progressively limited for privacy, and an abundance of food is grown.

Outside the Berms is a transition area that is landscaped as “natural” as possible and blends in to the larger “unmanaged” landscape.

The Berm areas, and inside the many micro climes made possible by the variety of wind, sun combinations provided, will have a high number of fruit and other trees, vines and so on. In fact, it will be impossible to actually see the Studio as drawn. These will be placed strategically to attenuate sun loads and frame views both in and out of the building.

My personal word of this kind of berming and landscaping is “EarthSculpture” In this case, the form the Berms will take will follow the circular aspects of the multi-module. The net result is to “set” the Studio like a jewel inside the landscape. Unfortunately, most buildings look like something deposited on the Earth as the result of an less than pleasing meal and then partially covered with the toilet paper of commercial landscaping.

6. “Terra Cotta”/concrete block system - this is the material for the vertical masonry core Superstructure that runs from the footing pad to nearly the top of the Studio.

This is a development of the Wrightian “Textile Block” system employed by the senior and junior Wrights in the L.A. area during the 1920s.

In this application there are several differences: The system will be made of rammed earth (cement augmented and perhaps baked) to create a terra-cotta like color and texture. This will closely match the tiles used for the balconies and some interior floors. These tiles might be manufactured the same way and at the same time as the block system. Next, the system will not be the entire structure - an interior and exterior row of the blocks will be laid and then filled as required with concrete, insulation and various cavities for air flow. The various ways that the “inside” of the blocks are treated will depend of the requirements of the situation. Also, the blocks will have a pattern cast into their surface - this pattern will reflect on several levels of recursion so that larger wall surfaces of the block system will reveal the pattern on a larger scale. Inversely, the same pattern will be picked up on a smaller scale in the tiles and fabrics used in the Studio.

The Elevation sketch does not show this patterning, at the “distance” of a 3/16 inch scale drawing, it would barely be noticeable. As noted above, the pattern is ubiquitous from the shape of the building to placement of it on the Site down to (progressively) the smallest detail. The entire thing is pattern on pattern. In this way, the pattern “disappears” - it is not a sometimes here, sometimes there,feature it is.

The goal is to make this “terra cotta” patterned surface very human friendly - a surface that one wants to get close to. Because of the radiant heat system, all of the surfaces will be warm and “touchable.”

Just as texture is often neglected in architecture so it the temperature of objects and surfaces. Have you ever been handed cold silverware on an airplane? Everything delivers a message.

Shape color, texture, pattern, smell, temperature - all of the senses aroused. Modern structures are losing this. How can a structure be a habitat if it fails to delight? How can it please if you do not want to embrace it like a wool blanket on a cool afternoon?

“Natural” architecture shelters. It pleases both intellect and senses. It engages.


7. Cantilevered Functional spaces and Balconies - these “ship-like” fabricated, wood-composite components come to the site finished and ready to mount on to the block system Superstructure. They house the mechanical systems necessary to their individual function and provide accessible chases for electrical, plumbing and mechanical runs. They mount via a steel “collar” that is fabricated with each component - dimensional control is insured by building the collars into the block system core walls when they are erected on site.

These components are built out of epoxy encapsulated wood - “cold molding” it is called in the ship building industry. Boats built this way can displace more water per weight than steel. Each component can be engineered, foot by foot, and built according to its exact load requirements - not the approximation now employed with most land based structures. An appropriate amount of “give” can be designed in, giving the structure a sense of liveliness - not the feel of an unresponsive opponent (of the occupants) as most building do.

The exposed surface finish will be varnish over inlaid, caulked “planking.” This is a programmed maintenance finish, and as long as it is done, the structural integrity of the whole component is insured. Because the inside of these components is accessible, the entire structure can be inspected, maintained and repaired as necessary.

This requires more work - month to month - but, over the long run, far less than a conventional structure. Properly cared for, the Studio will last indefinitely.

8. Window Walls and Energy Management Strategies - in this work, the idea that large window should only face south and the north exposure should have minimum exposure is rejected out of hand. So also is the idea of minimizing the surface area of the building shell.

This design does not seek to minimize energy use so much as it seeks to generate and employ “natural” energy flows. The building becomes an active component in the production, use and return of energy - a continuous, affordable, sustainable cycle. This is how Nature works.

We sail CAMELOT year round in Florida where the temperature can fluctuate greatly form a few cold days (30s 40s to extremely hot ones (over 100). CAMELOT is an all wood structure in water. Air conditioning is accomplished with ventilation via multiple port holes, hatches and doors augmented with various sun awnings. Heating is done by solar augmented with a coal/wood stove. 95% of the time the boat is very comfortable.

In the Studio, all of these devices will be employed. In addition, like CAMELOT, where you are during the days heating/cooling cycle is important. The work studios get morning and late afternoon light with a North exposure (and light) during the day. The parts of the structure exposed to the South will be used early and late in the day and can build up heat (to be distributed to the rest of the structure) during the day.

The Bay Area is an ideal temperate climate for this approach. It is a bit on the cool side and it is easier to heat than to cool.

In any day, there will be temperature differentials between various sides of the structure and the interior spaces. This creates the opportunity for air flows between areas - a refreshing addition to the usual stale interior habitat. Small fans will be used to augment this arrangement. Active shutters will be employed inside the window walls - on the south exposure, these shutters will be covered with solar cells for energy collection.

The Studio, therefore, employs a variety of active and passive energy collection and dispersion strategies - living in it affords the opportunity to “work” this system just as growing food makes the Studio a “homestead” in miniature. This is putting to work some of the principles explored in the Domicile EcoSphere designs.

The Cistern which will be below the Lower garden will provide a consistently cool thermal mass. This will feed vertical cavities inside the block system core that can provide a a source of cooling throughout the structure. As warm goes up and cool down the two flows will have to be used in conjunction with one another like a “pulley” system and will be augmented with solar driven vortex fans.

The vast majority of the glass shown in this sketch is fixed. The “operable” glazing is in the doors and strategically placed “windows” placed inside the larger glass walls. This simplifies weather stripping and leakage due to movement. It also allows the inside/outside air flow to be located in a way that augments the entire heating/cooling strategy of the building.

Depending of the final site, and the final design, if or the amount of active machine generated heating and cooling will be determined. The goal is to make the Studio net-out on its energy consumption to the maximum degree possible without compromising other program requirements.

9. Site orientation - this Sketch shows a site sloping east toward the Bay with mature trees, typical of the a region, on the north and west - rolling hills on the south and east. The Studio is shown in a low area sloping downward in an eastery direction.

The Greenhouse, Formal Entry & Reception, “Public” Bathing and Guest Studio face south. The Main Room and Lower Garden Shelter (which is structurally independent of the main Superstructure) face east. The Vehicle Dock (which is structurally independent of the main Superstructure) and the Informal Entry face west. The “Keeper” (Student) Studio and MT Studio face north. The Food Prep area is adjacent to the Greenhouse and faces inward.

All major areas have a basic “facing” orientation and exposure to two other directions - this is made possible by the fact that each functional area is “articulated” and expressed as an independent element.

The traditional small building configuration (which can be very well done and provide great value) imposes a number of limits on the way that rooms can be successfully oriented as their specific program requires. What this means is that there are whole aspects of orientation that have been rarely - if ever - explored.

This design explore a number of these opportunities.

The sun and its daily path is rarely an active ingredient of the interior experience of a building. Even when it is, the mono-dimensional restrictions imposed by traditional shapes makes it far less satisfying than it can be. One thing that is most enlightening is the experience of spending many days on CAMELOT at anchor. Wind and tide are always changing the orientation of the boat - there is constant movement, light and shadow coming first from here and then from there. This brings Nature and Life in. Most structures hold them out and “look” at them. Sad.

Part of what makes an EarthShip is to develop ways to bring this variety of experience to a land-based structure. CAMELOT does this easily - her masts, rigging and sails add a close in landscape, a partial space defining transient structure.

Another aspect of CAMELOT is that you live and work all over her. Not just “inside” - not on a “patio” or two. Every surface of CAMELOT is used, is accessible - and has to be - a total three dimensional experience. This approach is echoed with the Studio. You get in up, around, on, by it - to a much greater degree than the average structure. This means that much greater care has to be taken with the details and finish - there can be no “hidden” uglies no one is supposed to see.


As I write this piece, on Sunday morning February 27, 2000, It is a semi cloudy day with the light altering between dark winder rain and bright spring sunlight. I am in what was the Living Room of our EICHLER home and what is now Gail’s and my work Studio. There is a lot of good Pattern Language going on that is explititly employed in the Studio: 117 Sheltering Roofs; 127 Intimacy Gradient; 128 Indoor Sunlight; 138 Sleeping to the East; 146 Flexible Office Space; 159 Light On Two Sides of Every Room; 181 The Fire; 230 Radiant Heat; 253 Things from Your Life.

There are, of course many critical patterns missing - some that can be employed in time, many that never will be given the intrinsic limits of the design and concept. The qualities remain with a building. So do the limits. Pattern Language - built in - is one measure of a buildings sustainable value.

The quality of a work of architecture is subtle.

The overall gestalt of a building is important - even critical. However, it is the softer aspects that will define the character of the living experience over time.



Return to Program Statement.

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
February 23, 2000

SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted February 23, 2000

revised June 3, 2000
• • • •

(note: this document is about 20% finished)

Total time: Drawings and Notes to date: 22 hours

<script src="" type="text/javascript">
<script type="text/javascript">
_uacct = "UA-1597180-1";