A residential lighting scheme blends seamlessly with the environment and enhances the sculptural qualities of this home's dramatic architecture.
» Environmental awareness comes naturally to many Californians. as does an awareness of one's neighbors-especially in Marin County, the prestigious area across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, where property values are high, views of nearby mountains and the San Francisco Bay are spectacular, and ordinances governing sight lines and light pollution are strict. And so, for its design of a new house nestled in a wooded Marin County hillside, Phoenix-based Will Bruder Architects created a refined modernist structure that not only blends graciously with its site, but incorporates a lighting scheme that provides sophisticated illumination for its owners, while meeting local light-trespass criteria.
'The house is located in an amazing forest called Kent Woodlands, with views of Mount Tamalpais to the south, and Mount Diablo and the Richmond Bridge to the east,' says architect Ben Nesbeitt, who co-designed the project with Will Bruder. The property consists of two parcels of land that are divided by a shared driveway that leads to a neighboring house. To make the most of the steep and unusual site, the architects designed a crescent-shaped structure clad in weathered zinc, which conforms with the natural contours of the woodsy environs and maximizes access to views and light.
While the site itself afforded the architects an opportunity to merge their built environment with nature, the lifestyle of the owners, a married couple with two young children, presented the challenge of creating a space that would accommodate the family's range of needs for life, work, and play. The wife, a graphic designer, needed a studio and gallery. The husband, a musician, required an acoustic environment for his piano and recording equipment. With two small children and frequent guests, the couple also wanted safe interior and exterior play spaces, guest rooms, and entertaining zones.
The architects' solution to these programmatic requirements was to create two separate structures-a 4,600-square-foot residential building with an enclosed work area and a 1,000-square-foot sound-proof music/recording studio-linked by an underground passage that opens into a garden and allows safe travel from one part of the property to the other beneath the neighbor's driveway. In the main house, mostly open living spaces flow into one another, creating a visual connection between rooms, while a large deck and lawn terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, and floating wall planes link indoor areas to the outdoors.
Enhancing the home's unique formal and functional qualities is an artful and conscientious lighting design by the Culver City, California, office of Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design. 'The lighting creates a seamlessness between interior and exterior,' says associate Tina Aghassian, who developed the scheme with principal Teal Brogden. 'We liked the play of natural light and shadow you get throughout the day, and the dramatic shift in character of the spaces and views at night,' Aghassian explains. 'We wanted to play up those qualities and also reinforce the geometry of the architecture.' With this concept in mind, the designers employed a variety of lighting techniques that support the connection between indoors and out, without taking away from the natural setting or producing excess glare at night.
The significance of light in the overall design begins at the 800-square-foot three-car garage, a sculptural zinc form punctuated with slots of light that come to life at night. Here, the lighting designers quietly accented the architecture with a Mondrianesque play of light in the colors of a California sunset. An amber plexi-neon light emits a golden glow in the entry passageway next to the garage. Ceiling-mounted 60W T8 linear fluorescents within the garage provide punches of white light through slots in the doors, and the same fluorescent lamps covered with blue sleeves located behind white laminated glass panels highlight the garage doors' edges with a cool hue. Adding to the complexity of color, a pinkish tone emanates from 20W steplights beneath rectangular tangerine- and rose-hued 2-inch-thick structural fiberglass planes in front of the garage doors. During the day, these frosted fiberglass elements function as skylights over the kitchen area, which is tucked into the hillside and located beneath the garage.
Upon entering the house, visitors pass through a foyer with views of the canyon and the San Francisco Bay beyond. Curved halls extending from the foyer lead to the children's rooms to the southwest, and guest rooms to the northeast, while an adjoining staircase descends to the living spaces below. At the base of the stairs, a vast living room opens to a wooden deck and views of the glorious landscape. Here, the lighting designers reinforced the architecture by installing recessed 37W MR16 pinhole fixtures at strategic spots in the ceiling and along the arc of the fiberglass canopy over the deck. The recessed fixtures, flush with the ceiling plane and connected to a control system, permit uninterrupted views through the space and out to the landscape. The curved, translucent fiberglass blue-hued deck canopy was designed to allow sunlight into the living room during the day, while the 37W sources recessed within the soffit in front of the canopy illuminate the deck and twinkle like a delicate band of stars at night.
'Inside, we wanted warm light, mostly hidden and integrated with the architecture,' says Aghassian. 'And, here and there, we used a few beautiful jewel-like fixtures.' Two of these are long pendants housing 37W MR16 sources that flank either side of a floating fireplace in the living room. Another is a decorative pendant-fitted with 75W A-lamps-in the adjacent dining room. Perhaps most dramatic of all is a double-stacked Noguchi lantern that floats near the piano in the studio. The entire complex is an artful choreograph between nature and man-made structure, and between natural and electric light-a harmonious place that is as pleasing to the aesthetes who live here, as it is to the neighbors who live next door. jean nayar
project Sky Arc Residence, Marin County, California
architect Will Bruder Architects, Phoenix
lighting designer Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, Los Angeles
photographer Bill Timmerman, Phoenix
project size House: 4,600 square feet; garage: 800 square feet; studio: 1,000 square feet