Project Name: Diamondhouse
Location: Santa Monica, California, USA
Architect: XTEN Architecture – Monika Haefelfinger & Austin Kelly (AIA, LEED AP)
Client: Aisha Ayers
Project Completion Date: Dec 2009
Project Size: 820sqf Interior, 500sqf Roof Deck, 1200sqf Exterior Terraces / Firepit Area
Landscaping/ Site Pieces: Mark Motonaga
Photographs: Art Gray Photography
The Diamondhouse is a sound studio and office extension to a house located deep in a canyon, against a severely sloping hillside, with minimal access and little space upon which to build. Direct sunlight reaches the site for only a few hours a day. The geotechnical condition is challenging, requiring 30-foot caissons to underpin new walls and foundations. A complex web of regulations governed the height, width, depth and specific relationship to the retaining walls needed to build the project.
Given these constraints, a multifaceted architectural strategy was developed for the small building. First, a base building geometry was developed to conform to the hillside and required codes while maximizing the interior spaces by extending them into adjacent sideyards. Like a rock placed in a small pond, the addition is carefully placed between the existing structure and an imposing hillside to inflect the landscape and create exterior programmatic spaces around it where none could exist before. The building geometry also conforms to the interior program as a corner of the upper floor flares out to accommodate a writing desk built into a north-facing window and a series of wall planes fold up and over the building to create a rooftop railing and enclosure.
Next, a building material system was developed to both relate the new extension to the natural landscape and to reduce the visual scale of the building. The façade pattern was created from natural elements taken from the canyon site; abstracted, scaled and arrayed across the building in 3d modeling programs. Many patterns, scales and patterns were investigated in this manner, from which several full size prototypes were made by laser cutting and cnc routing aluminum, zinc, steel, plywood and cement panel samples.
The 3/8” thick Swisspearl fiber cement panels shown on the final construction were selected for both the way they relate to the masonry site walls and original structure, and for the fragility they impart to the otherwise hard edged and programmatically driven geometry of the building. Daylight brings out the etched lines, irregular edges and delicate qualities of the cement panels, which in direct sunlight appear as thin as a ceramic vase. While in the evenings the panels become flattened and the overall volume emerges, appearing as a patterned and perforated lantern illuminating the canyon.