Project in Detail
Sagaponack, United States of America
Tsao & McKown Architects, New York, United States of America
Max Thelander - TsAO & McKOWN Architects
Rural Retreat (for few or many)
1) Embracing ambivalence
The primary challenge was to design for the needs of a yet-to-be-determined client. This open-ended problem demanded an open-ended solution, one that could anticipate and address a number of different scenarios.
We responded by envisioning two distinct realms within the one house. Above, the public face: contained, controlled, consistent. Below, the private sphere: free-wheeling and spontaneous. We chose to embrace, rather than deny, this inherent ambivalence – a duality that is universal to the human condition. The house functions (physically and psychologically) on multiple levels – as much an intimate retreat for two (or one) as an accommodating host to extended family (or numerous guests) – thus promoting multiple, overlapping narratives.
Above: The domain of the primary inhabitants hovers above the ground as a compact, iconic wood and glass cube, an "object" building that reinterprets the basic "four walls and a roof." First level: "formal" entry, double-height living and dining, and kitchen. Stacked above, in a play of single and double-height volumes: a study (or alternatively, a guest bedroom) and a master suite. At the treetops: a private roof terrace with an integral movable screen to modulate sun and wind. Operable brise-soleils enclose the house, allowing for additional regulation of the elements.
Below: A "non-object" house comprised of informal entry, living, dining, kitchen, lounge, and guest bedrooms. These spaces blur the distinction between inside and outside. Operable glass walls open onto sun-flooded terraces, pool, and sloping lawns; additional natural light is provided through skylights embedded in the lawn above. Automobile entry and underground storage on the North side of this level effectively disappear.
Above and below: Floor-to-ceiling windows admit abundant sunlight and views of the surrounding forest; nature’s irregularity serves as a counterpoint to the designed geometry of the house. Natural cedar cladding is designed to acquire a weathered patina over time, eventually resembling the bark of trees.
In considering how to orient the house, we hypothesized that the owners would most likely have their primary home in the city. There, due to the singular orientation of the street grid, they would likely live in spaces oriented nearly orthogonal to the points of the compass. As a result, they would experience the rise and fall of the sun (and its related lighting effects) in a very consistent way, whether at work, at home, or anywhere else within the grid. The house below is similarly oriented, as a touchstone of continuity. The house above, however, is rotated so that one might experience aspects of the sun's spectra perhaps never before enjoyed.
2)Rooted in the landscape
Another significant question was how to root the house to the earth; the nearly flat site in a young growth forest offered no footing. We responded by reshaping the topography, establishing the lowest level slightly below grade and sculpting the surrounding terrain into a gentle rise.
In addition to anchoring the house, this intervention also allowed the visible volume to be reduced, and enabled the creation of indoor/outdoor spaces that are at once secluded, yet very open to their surroundings.
In this region, the issue of privacy has traditionally been addressed through the use of high walls of hedges. We wished to propose an alternative means of establishing privacy, one that that would not hem one in one’s own home, one that would be better integrated into its milieu.
Our effort to minimize the dwelling’s visual (and environmental) impact was, likewise, a matter of respect towards one’s neighbors (and the landscape).
Tsao & McKown Architects
United States of America
Mr Calvin Tsao, FAIA
TsAO & McKOWN Architects
United States of America