This article was originally published on November 13, 2013. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
Much of the spatial composition of the Villa dall'Ava was influenced by its site, in a garden on a hill. It was completed in 1991 in the residential area of Saint-Cloud, overlooking Paris. The clients selected OMA to design a house with two distinct apartments—one for themselves and another for their daughter—and requested a swimming pool on the roof with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
The site is delineated by three segments along the east-west axis: the garage, set at street level and paved in asphalt, the main volume of the house, and the garden, which extends the length of the site. The garage is accessed at street level and embedded into the sloping site. The villa itself rises from the level of entry to a roof deck perched three stories above. Its visually distinct volumes are stacked and oriented to optimize views of the garden and distant city. A poured concrete wall extends the height of the villa and establishes a main axis along the length of the site.
The communal spaces for the family are located within the main volume, a glass box ensconced in the garden. The architects conceived of the site as a room bounded by vegetation and terrain; the living room set within a larger room. Broad glass windows puncture the concrete wall at garden level so that the living spaces appear fully wrapped in glass. The walls create a permeable barrier between interior and exterior and slide to open fully onto the garden.
Though the villa’s perimeter is almost entirely glass at garden level, it is not completely transparent, as one might expect. The south facade is composed of transparent and sandblasted glass, screening a portion of the living room from view while permitting the passage of light. The minimalist kitchen is hidden from the exterior, tucked behind a curved, translucent wall within the living space. Along the north facade, a thickened partition of plywood obscures the living spaces from view. Only the elements of circulation, which occupy the space between the plywood wall and glass facade, are visible from the exterior. A narrow ramp leads from the entry to the garden level, and cantilevered steps provide access from the living room to the apartment above.
The swimming pool occupies the roof level of the central volume. From below, there is no clear indication of its existence. The surface of the water reaches just below roof level. The lack of guardrail or parapet accentuates the horizontality of the roof, juxtaposed by the apartments jutting in perpendicular directions at each end.
The apartments cantilever beyond the central volume, hovering over the garden. Both are clad in corrugated aluminum of contrasting tones, one with an aluminum finish and the other colored red by a copper lacquer. The corrugations are oriented horizontally, reinforcing the orientation of the apartments in contrast to the central volume. The material covers the underside of each apartment box, extending even across the interior, emphasizing the reading of volume over surface. The stair, which ascends from living space to apartment overhead, appears to slip through an aperture in the volume of continuous aluminum.
The continuity of each apartment's cladding is interrupted only by bands of strip windows. The bathrooms are housed in opaque, rectangular volumes set back from the exterior walls. Slender steel columns painted shades of black and gray support the larger of the two apartments, which dominates the street facade.
The strip windows and thin, repeated columns recall Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. The transparent glass box with inset, opaque service volumes appears inspired by Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and the Glass House by Philip Johnson. OMA received wide recognition for another innovative residence completed after Villa dall’Ava, Maison à Bordeaux. OMA Partner Rem Koolhaas was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2000, for an extensive body of work including Villa dall'Ava.