Stan Leopard Guest House and Studio/Office Addition
Preliminary Plans with Notes

for reference: LINK to Schematic Drawings and Notes

Site Plan CHANGES from Schematic Plan

After a site survey was conducted, it became clear that the existing house was rotated significantly more to the NE than the builder’s plan indicated. This is, actually a better orientation than what was shown.

With a precise location of the existing drop off from the level grass area into the existing swale, both the Guest House and the Studio/Office were moved further back from the existing house. This provides a better relationship between all the structures as the elevations and sections below reveals.

The trellis was simplified along with the access to the Studio/office which has been made stronger without sacrificing separation. Grade line 210 was selected as the basic grade level for establishing the floor height of the two additions. A bridge is provided across the “Wetlands” which will be formed from the existing swales and excavation required to raise the grading at the east sides of the Guest House and the Studio/Office. This keeps the building profiles lower and allows the wood decks to be built without railing which would obstruct the view from sitting height. Railing will be required only at the bridge, and around the Studio/Office deck facing the “Wetlands,” which is actually an asset, in a stand up area, providing a structure to lean against when looking into the Wetlands area.

The path from the parking area is configured as a wandering walk, through the landscape, providing access with a sense of leisure and discovery. The direct access to the Guest House and Studio/Office is provided by an axis line just west of the existing exit/entry to the Kitchen/Breakfast Nook to and from the Deck and Pool Area.

For programmatic reasons, the Pool and Sun Deck have been simplified employing an elemental circle for the Pool and square for the Deck. This arrangement also makes space to provide a landscape layer between this outdoor function and both the House and the Guest House. The relationship between the Studio/Office and Guest House has been further strengthened by changing their alignment, the shape of their decks, and by mimicking the same open roof structure employed for the Bedroom half of the Guest House at the Studio/Office. An outdoor Cooking Area has been added which can function in conjunction with both House and Guest House Kitchens.

An interior-exterior relationship is created that is composed of several overlapping and layered visual transitions.



Framing the COMMONS. The Studio/Office - with the “Wetlands” - to the South and the Guest House - with the Bridge - to the East, provide closure. On the North, the Commons is framed by the Trellis and a double “sheering” layer of landscaping, and ultimately the House. On the West, multiple layers of landscaping with wandering path access does the same. Both the Guest House and Studio/Office are oriented well for sun and view. Both light and sight - into and out of the structures - will be modulated by the immediate landscaping as will be described below. The trellis and landscaping does the same for the back side of the existing house and thereby removes the “back-of-a-building-look” so common to builder projects.

This creates an integrated environment yet one that has many zones of experience based on the unique requirements of each functional area. This creates in the exterior landscape the same experience as the “room within a room” pattern does in the interior.

The Commons, main House, Guest House and Studio/Office work as an organic whole while each supports life in a different way. All are surrounded by the two acre site. There is no “view” outside of the property so the landscaping design strategy is to create multiple layers producing a sense of a landscape leading to infinity.

This creates three major zones: the outer ring of landscaping, the ring of built structures on the South, East and North with dense landscaping and a fence to the West. The inner Commons area for shared outdoor living experience. The Commons, itself has an outer edge: walks and landscaping to the West; trellis and lower landscaping, then House to the North; Trellis and lower landscaping and Guest House to the East; the drop into the “wetlands,” then up to the Studio/Office to the South.

It is necessary that the total back yard area works as a whole and can support a large number of people who can sense a communal relationship while also enjoying a variety of distinct areas each with a different character.

The entire landscape and its buildings can support a single group experience as well as three major and three minor activities that require a measure of separation and privacy. This works well to incorporate family - children and adults - with personal work and business activities. At different times, different demands will be put on the space - it must function spontaneously.


Interior CHANGES from Schematic Floor Plans

In the Guest House there are two major changes. The fireplace mass has been moved toward the Commons and now terminates the intersection between the Private (sleeping, bathing, sitting) area and the Public (sitting, eating, food preparation). This defines the Public - “Living” space better and provides more privacy to the Private - “Bedroom” space while facilitating better accessibility between Kitchen and Bedroom. Secondly, the relationship with the Trellis and reconfigured Decks has been altered to better serve their respective areas and tie the Guest House to the Studio/Office via the bridge across the “Wetlands.” The triangular ends of the decks are gone [7]. The intent of the triangular ends was to “project” the rooms out onto the site as they are otherwise too “introspective” in their layout. This balance of prospect and refuge was achieved by the overall geometry and orientation of the major architectural elements.

The Studio/Office and the Guest House form a pinwheel in relationship to the “L” of the existing house. The “pinwheel” pattern is echoes by the form of the Guest House floor plan as it rotates around the fireplace mass. The Pool/Fountain and deck - forming the social “Commons” - nest inside of these three structures making a “space within a space.” The Wetlands divides the distance between the Studio/Office and Pool/Fountain/Deck Commons and wraps around the the adjacent sides of the Studio/Office and the Guest House. Each of the major areas face one another and each reaches out to an unique part of the landscape.



The “space within” is a necessary quality and also is the space without. The entire site is actually the “living” space of these structures and the focus of the experience of living at this place, at this time, on Earth. This requires not only a balance between prospect and refuge. It requires a balance between structure and free order; designed and spontaneous; tidy and “wild;” human centric and “nature” and animal habitat. Only then is there enough complexity and variety for the place to be truly alive and to captivate our attention over decades. Sun and moon light, shade and shadow, the sounds of nature, all make up this composition as does the many micro climates this configuration of built elements - combined with landscaping, from “natural” to ornamental to permaculture - will provide. After construction, it will take several years for all this to be fully achieved. The buildings will, ultimately, blend into the total Human-Gaia ecology.

The Studio structure is now a clone of the Private Area of the Guest House. Yet, the space is utilized in an entirely different way. The Bath Room becomes a small Rest Room behind a “relocated” fireplace mass (of a more intimate scale). This opens the space to becoming a predominately open area of three distinct sub-spaces that rotate clock-wise. The Studio is oriented the same as the Guest House with the work desk area - behind the screened window - located where the sleeping area is in the Guest House - these are, in both, the intimate spaces. In the similarity and difference of each, a unity is created. This becomes part of he memory of the environment [link:"embedded” memory].


The architectural idea of this building is simple and yet is full of subtle and delightful surprises.

It is a work very much rooted in the Bay Area Style - which is the appropriate idiom for this project - while mixing a number of formal and informal architectural elements. It is a study in prospect and refuge and the specific experience unique to each space.


The cupola [1 - see above] creates a vertical space in the “Public” Area of the Guest House. A clear story of opening windows provide light and ventilation. The Cupola roof is planted as is the flat roof [11] over the sitting, dining and kitchen areas of the Public Space. The roof over the Private Area of the Guest House and the Studio is an inverted square forming a pyramid roof. The “edge ” of this roof matches the slope of the main house roof line. The cap of this pyramid in a skylight [2]. The vertical light source is augmented by the triangle skylights [3], which are created by the juxtaposition of the pyramid roof - which is turned 90 degrees - as it “rests” on the square form of the room. The rooms are almost as “transparent,” vertically, as they are horizontally. This creates an (unfortunately) “unusual” spatial experience not often found in contemporary environments. This vertical viewpoint is necessary, in itself, and to overcome the default prevalence of the “flat” view-of-the-world so dominant in our society, its architecture, and so reflective of the horizontal, non exalted “thinking” patterns of this time. The vertical “corners” of the rooms disappear” to be framed by the landscaping which are the “real” outer walls of this habitat.


The vertical fireplace mass [4] is the anchor of the Guest House experience and the pivot point of the spiral relationship of the two living areas. It provides a separation but not separateness between the Public and Private areas. On the outside, the fireplace mass is elevated high enough to become an expression such that the “hearth” can be anticipated from without. This “mass” descends by virtue of the solid concrete-earth walls [13] found in the two juxtaposed corners of the Guest House and the retailing wall [5] at the stairway leading to the wine cellar. These solid walls “ground the structure, express structural shelter and anchor the buildings to the site. They also provide thermal mass.


The Trellis [6], connects the existing house to the Guest House and the path/bridge to the Studio. It is partially cover and planted. It also protects the Pool/Commons side of the Guest House from summer afternoon sun.

The decking [7] at the intersection of the Private and Public areas of the Guest House provides a private outdoor sitting space with a morning exposure for both Bedroom and Kitchen This deck will be the most private outdoor sitting area and, after the landscaping matures, will be inaccessible except through the Guest House. Each indoor and outdoor space has its own unique character and program assignment. While of similar elements and common grammar, each space is “rendered” to be fit for its specific circumstance.

There are four different types of Glass walls: floor to beam fixed glass with mullions with an opening pane for ventilation at the bottom of alternating sections [8]; the louvered fixed glass walls that run from the floor to the soffit of the pyramid roof [9] - this is the one section where the floor juts out to fill this triangular section; out swinging wood and glass french doors with a fixed light to the beam [15]; sliding wood and glass doors on the patio/Commons side of the Guest House. These four types of glass walls form an integrated fenestration that is responsive to exposure and the function of each area in relationship to its immediate exterior space.


The pyramid roofs [10], themselves, are shop built from exposed, naturally finished birch plywood - much like typical AI Armatures - shipped, assembled and covered with a metal standing seam roofing. The flat roof [11] is planted with grasses and ground cover allowing some spill over at the eves and onto the trellis on the Commons side. Access to the planted roof top is provided by a ladder [14]. The structure is a post and fletch-plate beam system which encircles the 200 squares of the structures. The Studio being one and the Guest House being composed of two offset from on another. With the exception of the fireplace mass, the concrete-earth walls stop at the bottom of the encircling steel and wood composite beam. Above this line, the roof framing is shop built and pre-finished giving a boat-like appearance. The same construction and finish - only with lighter members - is employed for all partitions, cabinetry and built-ins. The inverted squares of the pyramid roof rest on the composite beam, cantilever their four points beyond the square of the room - one point of which becomes room space [9] - and form a flat triangular skylight [3] at each corner of the basic square of the floor plan.


The outside Cooking area [12] is built of the same concrete-earth materials as the fireplace and solid walls [13]. It is placed between the Guest House and the existing main house to be convenient to both, as well as, serve the outdoor Commons area. The masonry elements form a “courtyard” outside the existing children’s Bed Rooms which will be densely landscaped creating a buffer between them and the Guest House.

The ground slopes off rapidly from the Guest House and drops to the “wetlands” [16] between the Guest House and the Studio and the Studio and the Commons area. This ribbon separates the back yard west-to-east and provides an appropriate degree of isolation - of the Studio/Office from the family areas - while still making the Studio an integrated part of the whole.

California is a place of outdoor living yet few contemporary houses actually support this practice well.

The COMMONS is created by the location of the existing and new buildings, the terrain and landscaping which will be added.

This will make an outdoor living room - a space within two greater spaces - suitable for a variety of individual and group activities.

Outdoor cooking in an important function in this regard and a healthier alternative than indoor cooking.


How the COMMONS is formed:

The camera, while a wonderful tool, has been the cause of much damage in the making of architecture. Architecture is approached, now, as a visual art as this is the most common way the majority experience the few rare pieces of true quality that are built. As far a popular architecture goes, architects, it seems, design more for the picture as it will appear in the magazine than for “the reality of the space enclosed” and the intrinsic relationship between the space and its specific function. Architecture is an experiential art and the act of moving through a work is essential to a full understanding of any fine architecture. Architecture creates place. It blends utility an art. This is a living art. Art that can only be experienced by use. With much of our contemporary buildings, indoor and outdoor spaces have lost their intimate connection with both the landscape and the interior - the world outside is “viewed” though a “picture” window as some kind of an abstraction while a sense of connected exterior space is ignored and happens by accident.

The perspective drawings used here lack the detailing that will be the work of the Design Development phase to come; and, they do not show color, texture and landscape with the exception of the still schematic renderings at the bottom of this page. These drawings are employed in diagrammatic line form to show the basic elements of the Guest House and Studio, and relationship to one another in order to augment this description of the primary design elements of this work. The Program Statement and Presentation Package color renderings [future link] will show, more completely, details, textures, colors and the presence and use of planting which is a major design element and only described in outline in this document.
The Commons is formed by the positioning of existing and new architectural elements and by the landscape. This is described in some detail in the schematic design documentation of the project [future link] The Commons and its relationship to the the existing house and the new addition has been and remains a key element of the design concept.

The LANDSCAPING design strategy:

The landscaping design strategy is much like my design for my Bay Area Studio [link: bay area studio] - it establishes a series of layers so that fade into infinity by the property line. It progresses in a series of subtitle transitions from interior to exterior to permaculture to indigenous plants. These transitions are minute so that there never exists a hard line from one to another. The landscaping is also an active agent in the making of micro climes throughout the site and mediating weather around and within the buildings by alternately shielding and exposing building surfaces as the seasons change. The landscaping forms the actual outer walls of the Guest House and Studio reducing the amount of privacy screening required at glass (doors and window) window walls.

The landscaping enters the buildings in the form of potted plants and embraces the building, intimately, by roof planting on the the Public space of the Guest House and by being a riot of color on the trellises. The hard surfaces and linearity of the fixed architectural forms are softened and embrace variety by the living plants - the building disappears into the landscape. It becomes a scaffold - an armature - an interface for the human occupancy of a natural habitat.
The plants, themselves, will be selected to reflect the seasons (allowing light in and not at appropriate times of the year) and also to provide year around flowering. The Permaculture layer will provide low maintenance edible plants. If there is anything iconic about contemporary Northern California it is the flowering and edible landscape. The city of Mendocino exemplifies this. A landscape such as this cannot be achieved all at one time. It has to evolve. It is cannot be store bought. It cannot be over designed. It has to come about as the result of a human/nature partnership - part intentional art, part serendipity. The landscape is human made yet becoming human involves learning from the Earth. Human will designs (“to mark out”) and will is informed and tempered by the wisdom of history and Nature. Again, this is the meaning of the concept organic [future link].


The persepective above does not show finish materials and the interior furniture system. These will be described here and shown in the Program Statement and Presentation Package renderings [future link].The Private area of the Guest House is a 20 foot by 20 foot (6.096 meters) space that is largely open with the exception of a closet and the Bathroom both of which are “ship-like” and compact.

The bed [19] can be configured in several ways. It can be sunken as indicated (with or without a closing floor), raised, with storage under, with or without surrounding AI modular shelving and storage units. The bed area can be a combination of these. It is expected that the room will have a couple of chairs or rockers, a small rolling workstation and built in storage. The bed can be configured so that is a day-bed, couch and sitting workspace for computer, hand work or reading. If desired, the fireplace, swimming pool, Living/Dining area (and trellis [6] beyond), and private deck [7] can be seen from the bed depending on door-shutter configuration and lighting.
The parturition systems around the bathing and food preparation areas will be configured to shift so as to create a variety of open-enclosed options appropriate for different situations. The window walls are all floor to ceiling wood and glass. They are configured in three ways: fixed glass, operating windows for ventilation, and French doors for entry egress. Each of these are allowed to be expressed as themselves within the continuity of the total glass wall of which they are a part.
The air conditioning supply and returns are built in to the cabinet and soffits and allow access for cleaning. Thus, structure (above the composite beams), window walls, built-ins, cabinetry, partitions and free standing furniture are all of the same “language,” materials, finish and construction method. They are all delivered to the site at the same time and installed in rapid sequence. The ornament of this system is the frank expression of their material, way of manufacture and method of installation.


The palette is simple, direct and natural: cement augmented compacted earth masonry walls; tile floors; manufactured, painted wood and thermo pane glass doors and window walls; sanded, eased, stained douglas fir (with painted steel fletch-plate) composite structural members [17]; redwood on decks and finish trellis members; AI shop built partitions, cabinets (with poured, colored concrete tops), furniture, rafters, pyramid ridge beams [18], and soffits out of Baltic birch plywood with clear finish; oriental rugs and natural lambs wool carpeting around the bed area [19].

One of the sad conditions of the present time is the dematerializations of our architecture [future link].Materials have become manufactured, uniform, thin and uninteresting. They lack variety, substance, texture, The look and are cheep. There making is based on cost not on value - the short term effect not what will be the substance in 20, 40 or a 100 years. This is not authentic. It is to pretend. It is superficial. These “store bought and finished materials look their best on the day of their installation and have not where to go but down hill from there. They do not wear well nor do they repair. Over the decades, the paint piles higher and the building disappears under layer and layers of mendacity.
Some of the new materials have great potential and intrinsic value and many architects, now working, are exploiting these possibilities and building an appropriate grammar of their use. These tend, however, to be of a single kind. Having, great visual variety, there remains a tenancy to to be impoverished in terms of texture. Few of these material wear well. The traditional materials, at the same time, have become domesticated. It is all veneers and surfaces that preen rather than breathe and change. It makes, of course, materials easier to control and it eliminates the need for craft. As a consequence, our built landscape becomes expressive of a balance sheet and little else.
This work seeks to express the nature of materials - new and old - and make a tactile, sensual material reality that will mellow with time, becoming the embedded memory of the history of PLACE.


With the exception of the underground Utility Room and Wine Cellar, which will be reinforced concrete block, the foundations are concrete grade beams set over tube-formed poured concrete piles. The floor system is wood joists, a T&G sub-floor with tile as a finish floor over a radiant heating system. The solid walls are cement reinforced compacted earth adobe walls set in forms. On top of the adobe walls, and supported by wood posts at the window walls, rest wood and steel Fletch-Plate composite beams [17] that encircle the entire space and cross the rooms as show above. On top of this is the AI Armature-beam-soffit-ceiling prefabricated and shop finished system (which will include roof sheathing). This system - which is both structure and finish - will be covered in the field with insulation and copper (or steel) standing seam roofing [36].

These building are designed to be erected in 60 days from start to the completion of the finish work. This requires that a substantial about of the work is shop built and completed prior to the beginning of the field work. It also requires a high level of field control over dimensions. This process will be detailed elsewhere [future link]. The basic strategy is to do what is best in the field and best done in the shop while managing their just-in-time, FasTracking-fitting-together in-the-field. This tight integration of elements once considered separate, as structural and finish, is one of hallmarks of the Usonian concept and its original economy. The AI Capability [future link] takes this to a new level of both structural strength, level of finish, and rapidity of construction.


The additions are intended to site lightly on the earth, take little and give back, and, establish a kind of luxury, unfortunately, not commonly experienced today - a luxury based on the authentic use of natural, “real” materials and forms that are harmonic yet embody meaning and liveliness. This structure does not run away from technology nor does it flaunt it either. True technology augments a natural human capability and capacity. It is transparent. Much of out technology, today, is dominate and demanding more master than helper and certainly almost never partner. The appropriate balance can be achieved by making a building that does not need technology, beyond the craft level, to be a fully livable environment and then seamlessly insert technology where it truly augments and enhances the human experience.

Solar panels are provided on the south facing pyramid standing seam roofing [36] as well as the back yard side of the main house roof. these will generate electricity and sell excess back to the grid. Computer and media technology will have ubiquity, wireless and invisible. Lighting will be built in providing ambient, task and effect lighting all individually controllable and programmable. Full spectrum light will be accomplished by employing a variety of different kinds of energy efficient bulbs. Heating will be provided by radiant piping in the floors and adobe walls (which have thermo mass) - surge capability will be provided through the AC system. Electric programmable screens will protect window walls as required for privacy and temperature control.

A ROOM may be small and made of simple geometrical shapes yet this does not mean that it cannot be a space with great visual complexity and sensory nuance.

Here the light enters, differently, at all hours of the day and in all seasons.

The materials are real, simple and sensual with color, texture and pleasant smells

This will be an efficiently built building - much of it shop built - yet there is nothing “manufactured” about its feeling - it is craft built a product of both hand and industrial arts.

This is a room of many moods, simple functions with easy access to other areas - two inside and two exterior.

Well ventilated, heated by fireplace, sun and and a floor heating; cooled mostly by natural air flow requiring air conditioning only a few hours a day during a few months of the year; a place that embraces the landscape.


The USONIAN Connection:

One of the goals of this project was to advance a postUsonian grammar [link: usonian house] and the capability to build this kind of house at an affordable price [link: postusonian prototypes] The context of the exiting house tempers this goal somewhat. However, there are several elements that this project can contribute to the accomplishment of a postUsonian practice: The simplicity of plan and structure; the use of manufactured partitions, furniture and pre-finished light structural elements based on the AI baltic birch “platform” which is itself a derivative of Usonian grammar; the small foot print of the structures; the build-able nature of the design so that a rapid build cycle is possible; the reliance on orientation, natural ventilation, solar mass, roof planting and insulation, floor heating, and landscaping to mediate heating and cooling requirements; and, the programmatic elements of the design which are based on a different work-life style concept than what is prevalent today. The juxtaposition of the Guest House and Studio to the existing house is an interesting experiment in this regard. It should be noted, of course, that the functions associated with the two additions are more easily rendered in this way than those of the existing house which is based on the prevalent lifestyle of today. Guest house and studios as generally built in a simpler, “stripped down” and relaxed way than the main house. So, for a potential home owner this is not as radical a step as an entirely new building will be.


The Guest House and the Studio are, together, almost as large as a small Usonian. I estimate that a modern version of the Phoenix House [future link] will be about 1600 square feet. A postUsonian can be completed for a young couple at about the size of this addition and then expanded as children, requirements and wealth grow together. This is a different notion of a “starter” house than the common one which encourages speculation, constant migration both of which engender poor quality, the fragmentation of community and the perpetual rise and decline of real estate prices. Individuals and families do not benefit from this “process” although they have the delusion they are making money as they go along. Society as a whole does not. Ask yourself who does. Those collecting the transactional costs gain the most benefit while contributing the least to the realization of good housing and a stable society. It is better to build small with quality - and build more as needed and affordable - than build large with low quality. It is better to invest in a home and refine it over an extended time period, build community and become integrated with a regional economy/ecology [link: master plan] than to treat your habitat as a commodity [link: gaia project].This requires, of course, a different attitude about real estate [link: real estate] than the modern one which is based on inflation and a succession of so called trade ups. The notion of building a work of art, stewarding it, improving it and keeping it is now a strange idea. Most people, today, not matter their financial capability “live” in a shrink-wrapped predigested expression of a market defined by those who define it, serve it and make money from it. What will sell (as defined by an elite who sell and finance) designs homes and little else. Taste is manipulated.

Usonian principles are based on a different view of human value and how a life reflective of values can be lived. What will happen - or not - to this design is one more “vote” to see if the creation of true and sustainable wealth building can compete with short term money grabbing in today’s real estate market.

The INTERIOR Reality :

That there is an exterior and interior reality is a fact as there is a floor, wall, ceiling roof membrane which creates this distinction. How this membrane yields an experience is more subtitle than the common experience of inside-outside separated by barriers.

A sense of shelter is the most profound and important aspect of a work of domestic architecture. If the work fails in this regard it fails totally. Yet, it is a mistake to make the demarcation of “in” and “out” a rigid line at a simply defined exterior wall of a residence. The very act of doing this is to make a dichotomy and elevate it to the status of a virtue. Not only is this impoverished symbolism it imposes unwanted limits on the sense of space within and the transition to the space without. This mistake denies the full potential of interface between the various living areas both internal and external. These transitions do have meaning and they do send strong messages to those transiting their boundaries. Be these messages understood in the conscious sense or not does not matter. The message is sent and it is received in any case. This addition is composed largely of three 20 foot by 20 foot spaces that clearly read as such. Two of the squares have juxtaposed pyramid roofs and one a flat roof with two levels. Two of the squares are attached with one separated and connected by decking and bridge. These are simple forms easily grasped and understood. Beneath this initial level of perception is a more complex reality. It is this layer of complexity that brings the spaces alive and creates place possessing the variety to hold interest over the years. It is this variety that reflects Nature and give the landscape something to engage with, and to generate with, an endless dance of pattern. It is this capability that is the essence of organic architecture.
These three squares constitute a single level of recursion that establishes human scale. There are multiple levels of recursion - larger and smaller - that make the variegated reality of the total space the dimensions of which reach to the property lines and beyond. There is a rhythmical sequence between these recursion levels which, in itself, conveys information and meaning. Horizontally and vertically there exists a rich tapestry which weaves from the intimate to the infinite. This work is predominately experienced from the inside “out.” There are, however, several of these “insides” and they also form layers each with its own “center.” In this way, background, middle and foreground exists at any point an individual will stand while looking in any direction. These levels and layers are subtle and never so overt as to cause the sense of being contrived and creating a manipulated environment. They make what will be sensed as a “natural” place because this “design” merely reflects what nature does and too often humans obliterate, by their buildings, and fail to recreate. One such center is the Commons itself which is formed by the exiting house and the additions. Other centers are the Guest House and the Studio - each an unique place. Within them, taking the Guest House as an example, are rooms and areas such as the Public and Private spaces and within them areas like the bedroom. These areas all flow into one another and each has distinct boundaries made of permeable membranes the strength of which can be controlled by those occupying the individual spaces. The size and orientation of openings between these spaces, and the manor in which they are trimmed and provided with “doors,” all contribute to this capability. Visually, the space echoes this layering.

The Private and Public spaces of the Guest House share the same foot print yet are two entirely different spaces. The continuous compost beam [17] system ties the entire building together structurally and visually - the two different roof structures, resting on this beam, create two unique spaces.

Diversity within unity.

The fireplaces [x] mirror one another. The rooms orient primarily themselves in opposite directions. They flow into one another on their most private side. Both open to the Commons [x] yet their interior approach to this opening is of another sort.

These transitions are critical to the proper functioning of the environment. This design illustrates how a building, without wasteful hallways, can be one and separate yet exercise subtle degrees of transition experience by the proper use of interface principles. It is at this level that that a living environment is accomplished.



These are compact and basic while being carefully finished. They are not designed to be as isolated from day-to-day activities as is often the case. The existing plans have not been developed to solve for how both can be opened to the greater space and, alternately, closed. This is a task of Design Development and not an insurmountable design challenge and will be accomplished with the Ai built partition system.

There is a program element where the Guest House serves as a cabana to the Commons. In this mode, the bathroom and kitchen areas are readily available to the family outdoor areas while the bedroom can remain private. The shift from this mode and back to use as a guest house has to be achieved in a brief time by moving a couple of partitions and sliding doors.
The finish in the Kitchen and Bathroom is virtually the same as the rest of the structure with the addition of the concrete counters in the Kitchen and mosaic tile in the Bathroom tub/shower. The Kitchen is an integral part of the Public area although it can be partitioned off when necessary. A dumb waiter to the Wine Cellar, below, will be provided - useful for large scale entertainment.
The Bathroom is small and compact. The tub area is oversize and sunken and fits under the roof glass triangle in the corner of the Private area structure.
A great deal of the storage afforded in this compact space is found in and adjacent to the Kitchen and Bathroom spaces.


The decks are of two kinds. Some are outdoor corridors which, with their trellis, tie the various buildings and areas together will affording shelter from sun and rain. Others are sitting areas - outdoor rooms, actually - which provide varying degrees of prospect and refuge, engagement and detachment from the other areas of the buildings and landscape.The decks are “open” yet framed by the walls around them and the landscape itself. They oriented to their immediate grade lines so as to eliminate as much as possible the requirement for rails which hold the space too tightly and obstruct viewing. The ground does rapidly slope from these edges so that the sense of the deck plane as “floating” is enhanced. This “lifts” the spaces and projects them into the landscape beyond, which becomes the true “walls” of these outdoor rooms. The decks are placed functionally. They each serve an explicit purpose and fulfil a concrete program requirement. They are not just “there” because it is possible to do a deck in this location and it looks nice.

The Guest House Deck, between the Private Room and the Public Room, receives early morning light and afternoon shade. It is accessible only from the Guest House and is away from the Commons. It serves as a quite sitting area shelded from the main activities of the total complex. It is a place for an early morning cup of coffee or a evening glass of wine. While a large deck, horizontally, it it framed between bedroom and kitchen and by landscaping to be an intimate space. It is a place of refuge.
The Studio Deck is separated from the Commons by the Wetlands and is therefore semi-private from family activities while being open and accessible to Studio visitors. This is a place of sunlight and prospect.
The Bridge across the Wetlands is not just a means of keeping your feet dry in the rainy season. It is a ritual in the shift in mood from residence to work. It also is a place in itself for viewing and sitting. It is part of what will be an unique spot in the landscape.
In calling these areas “outdoor rooms” I am not speaking metaphorically. They do, of course, connote this concept and that has intrinsic value even when the decks are not being used - they hold the promise. I mean these decks to be used. This is Northern California and the the weather is such that outdoor living and cooking is a tradition. Like Malls, it is not easy, however, to created such a space that compels use. The Decks must attract and they must work once someone is attracted to them. These outdoor rooms are the most difficult of places to design.


One of the challenges of putting such an extensive addition on an existing - and not overly large house - is how to make the two fit together without being limited to the architectural concept and execution of the first, or conversely, overwhelming the existing structure. And, even though there is a different philosophy between the two, to pull out the strengths of the existing work so as to make the combined effort work as an integrated and functional whole.

There are small changes that can be made to the exterior of the existing house (color, texture, detailing) which can help blend the two “styles” better. However, it will be the landscaping close to the existing house and the additions that will bring harmony to these different structures more than any hard-built thing. On the plain of the plan, they engage one another well creating, collectively, a harmonious indoor and outdoor living environment.
Regarding scale, the horizontal and the vertical plain have to be addressed. Horizontally, the existing structure and the new ones are about equal in dimension and complement on another while forming a partially enclosed Commons in their center. Vertically, the existing house - as a mass - is allowed to be dominate (mostly by its roof line - its materiality does not express mass so much as plain) with the additions stressing a horizontal line with a few punctuated vertical elements which fall just short of “challenging” the height of the existing structure. The new additions are subordinate but not subjugated.
Fitness, as an architectural concept, addresses many aspects: the landscape, the social place, the times, the life-style and economy of those who live in the structure - and, the statement that the building makes about all of these factors. Any building is an expression of values and an act - in the real world - to render those values as a living experience. This is the inescapable nature of architecture no matter recognized or not by those who build or those who use what has been built. The natural landscape of this region, where this house is located, has been largely obliterated by city and developments which have subdivided the land into small parcels. Yet, there remains an overall sense of the physical and social landscape which is unique to Northern California. Just as there is prospect and refuge on the scale of the house and its immediate landscape, so there is also in regards how the entire property address it physical-social framework. This is not only a response to the physical opportunity it is a factor of what levels of inclusion and privacy work for those who live on this piece of land. In this case, I have chosen to “hold” the entire physical sense of place to the immediate property lines (with the exception of the sky) while addressing the social context by use of idiom. The landscaping, in the real acre where the additions are placed, will create a series of progressive layers around the building which will slowly blend the landscape into infinity with no direct view of any adjacent property. Along this progression, the landscape will progress from ornamental plantings, to Permaculture to “natural” for the region. In this way, the rear of the house will migrate toward the “private” and a setting much like would be accomplished with a greater acreage while the front will remain more “public” in response to an evolving semi-suburban setting. Sebastopol is a quiescently Northern California community with a high variety of cultural offerings. It is an interesting blend of business, modern attitudes and Ecotopian values. The idiom of the additions reflect this setting with architectural references to Maybeck, Wright, Wurster, Hillmer, Callister and others while being their own person. There is history here and future also. While not an extreme attempt at green building, this aspect of the times and this place is also employed in balance with the infrastructure already in place.
Proportion addresses how all of the elements relate to one another and to the immediate landscape which can be perceived to be the context of these structures. The existing house sits in the middle of the two acres (this is not shown on the partial Plot Plan above). The addition reaches out to and emplaces the rear acre while the front acre is landscaped to create a park-like setting with a walking path. The heights of the buildings are modest in relation to the plane and volume of the property so this remains a predominately horizontal (with the additions helping in this regard) vista.


As I designed this project, one of the tests I gave myself was two questions: could I live happily and productively, with a companion who also worked out of the environment, and could I personally build the project for $200 a square foot. My answer to both is yes. These spaces can be configured for a working couple and a disciplined and careful building process can achieve the basic environment for this budget. This was just a “thought experiment” useful only as a reality check. The Program [future link] does not call for this intensive a level of utilization although it is not totally out of the question that this level of use may not be necessary some day. A young couple still in college and living at home is one example. Nor, is the budget, in the circumstance of this setting, likely to be so tight to require an owner builder approach. The fact that the building are designed to be built this way can promote good economy, even when using a professional builder, if the simplicity of the process is recognized and properly exploited. Other than the electrical-mechanical trades, and a few specialty sub-contracts, this project is designed to build over a two month period of time by four craftsmen with the structure above the main beam line and all built-ins and furniture being prefabricated in the AI shop and installed by the on-site crew. In other words, this project is designeed to be built by builders - not contractors - under the supervision of the owner and guidance of the architect. To the extent that craft is still alive and can be found, this project can be executed , economically, swiftly and beautifully.

This way of building is not unrelated to the way of living inherent in this environment: direct, simple, physical-tactile, intellectually alert and involved, tuned to natural ways, objects and values, intimately involved with a landscape which is the consequence of a prolonged human-nature collaboration.
It is is this way of life that the true radical nature - in contrast to today’s consumer society - of this work is revealed. It is in this sense that the work has its roots in the Arts and Crafts, organic architecture and Bay Regional Style movements when they are understood in terms of values, the philosophy of living, the pursuit of intellect, beauty and harmony not in the dogmatic sense of a rigid STYLE. This approach is antithetical to the mindless collection of things, over-stated architectonic statements and rapacious destruction of the natural landscape so iconic of our present time. Architecture of this sort has not faded because it failed to live up to its promise. It has faded in the marketplace because the values of the buyer have changed over the last 50 years.
When complete - as a total project - there will be two acres of Planet earth and two million dollars worth of human-built artifact. This is a resource to be stewarded. It will make an environment which to designed to promote, express and facilitate a specific way of experiencing life. In time, all of the elements: an already altered landscape, a high quality “builder” house, a traditional piece of craftsman, organic, Bay Area architecture, will blend together to make something new - something unique. This, of course, is the end of the major making phase yet only the beginning of the act of practicing a piece of earth reality into a way of living. It is this practice which is the most creative aspect of the project and will take the longest to achieve. It is this aspect that is the most vulnerable to the ravages of time. The physical can be rebuilt. The spirit of the place has to be recreated every day.
Architecture, as I have pointed out, in my lifetime has become to be approached as a visual art (as expressed in the iconic photograph) and often not even as an art. It shys away from meaning, the expression of values and has become the expression of either banality or unbridled false egotism. Architecture is an experiential art. It is emergent. It can be had and kept only by an integrated, iterative, recursive act of design-build-use. It cannot be bought - all the money in the world, without mind, soul, and right action cannot make it so. Once achieved, it does not stay absent continuous re-creation. Houses can be bought and sold - homes cannot. To create an authentic domestic reality is one of the most difficult, challenging, exciting, creative acts expressive of true humanity. The private living and workspace, no matter its setting (urban, suburban, rural) is the most challenging and greatest of all architectures.

These renderings are not yet not totally correct nor finished. The do begin to show the quality of the materials, color and texture pallet of the buildings. The landscaping will add several additional layers of texture and color to the building while also playing counterpoint to the linear geometry of the structure. Further the landscaped flat roofs and trellises will bring this riot of free form and color onto a higher and horizontal plane. These will be shown when the rendering is finished.

This rendering does begin to reflect the quality of light within and on the Guest House and Studio that is the synergy of the Northern California region, natural materials that have depth of surface and variegated texture-color, the planting surround not yet shown. The sum of this creates a strong alternative to the plastic, hard surface world of our present time.

This bird’s eye view shows the overall composition and reveals the importance of the landscaping (not yet shown) to the success of the project. The pictures below landscape elements which, along with the narrative, indicate how this can be done. The landscape can be designed and it can be implemented before and after construction. It will take several years to reach the level of fit and maturity desired. The landscape is the consequence of the integration of itself, the building and those who live and work there over an extended time frame.

The building, itself will weather and its patina will change. The copper will turn green, the redwood gray out and even the adobe walls will change tone, reflecting their different exposures to sun and rain. In time, the entire built artifact will settle into the landscape - and the landscape to it - all to become something more than the parts which will be put in place.

t h e x T a y l o r x A r c h i t e c t u r e x T e a m
preliminary phase work

Matthias Oppliger: Project Architect; Design Development collaborator with Matt Taylor, code and building department coordination, preliminary CAD drawings and 3d images.

Matt Taylor: Project concept, program and schematic design, preliminary design collaborator with Matthias Oppliger, web site and presentation book publishing, relationship and consultation with Stan Leopard.

Fred Stitt: Architect of Record; project audit and oversight, technical consultant to the team.

link: full team listing all project cycles

posted: August 6, 2006 • updated January 2, 2007
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