Sunday, May 20, 2012

Emerald Ranch Road Properties

I recently visited the Emerald Ranch Road properties ( and was impressed by the care and sensitivity that has been extended to them thus far.  Dave Roberts of Sothebys' asked if I would share some thoughts on how new owners might think about building on these wonderful sites.  Because it is fundamental to my thinking that architecture is enhanced by partnering with its setting, I have listed below some basic strategies for working with, rather than against, the natural landscape.  This approach is dependent on the ability to "read the landscape" – a talent that requires architects with notable skill and genuine affinity for the natural landscape.

Don't think of the site as simply a placeholder for a building that offers you little or no exchange with your surroundings – rather think of how you can merge with and/or best experience the site.  Do not select the nicest spot on the property and then obliterate it by putting the building there (1, 2).
(1, 2)
The view will almost always be more compelling with some trees left in the foreground.  What is left in place is every bit as important as what is removed – layering provides choices and allows the eye to move back and forth (3, 4).
(3, 4)
Every site includes numerous opportunities for adaptation and enhancement of the development.  Sun, wind, layered views, significant trees, ground slope, and other natural features all suggest how the development might best respond to the unique circumstances of the site.  To not take advantage of these opportunities sentences the project to the status quo (5, 6).
(5, 6)
Maximizing sun in winter and minimizing it in summer are usually fundamental considerations in siting the house – and can be realized with a bewildering array of solutions (7, 8).      
(7, 8)  

Consider preserving the limited amount of usable (relatively flat) land by  building on the adjacent steeper slopes.  Two or more buildings placed accordingly can create a courtyard (9, 10).
(9, 10)
Dense high trees usually suggest high windows because they bring in more light and afford views up into the tree boughs (11, 12).
(11, 12)

Building amongst trees to be preserved may suggest weaving the building in, out, and around them for a literal integration.  Various parts of the house can be placed in open areas connected between the trees (13, 14, 15).
(13, 14, 15)