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2014 MCHAP.emerge

Hill House

Johnston Marklee

Pacific Palisades, USA

October 2004


Johnston Marklee


Lush Life LA (Landscape ), William Koh & Associates (Structural engineer), Hinerfeld-Ward Inc. (Contractor)


Chan Luu


Eric Staudenmaier


MASSING The massing of the Hill House results from two economically driven development criteria: maximize the volume allowed by the zoning requirements and minimize contact with the natural terrain to preserve area for native plantings on the slope. Recalling Hugh Ferriss’ vision of a Manhattan skyline that literally interprets zoning laws as built form, the Hill House adopts the maximum zoning envelope as its form. The initial envelope is shaped from a combination of property setbacks in plan and hillside height restrictions in section, and is further refined three-dimensionally according to structural criteria and roadway access. STRUCTURE The minimized footprint of the Hill House reflects the demands for efficiency given the complexity of the hillside geology. The structural assembly is composed of concrete, steel, and timber. The foundation consists of nine 35-foot deep reinforced concrete piles (an unrelated previous design for the site proposed 35 piles), anchored into bedrock and tied together by a network of three-dimensional grade beams. Rising up from this foundation, inclined concrete walls project orthogonally to the grade – instead of vertically – taking on the figure of prevented fall by acting in compression to further increase structural performance. A braced steel frame with timber infill framing emerges from the concrete base to form the structural enclosure of the house. The sculptural central stair acts as the structural core of the building from which the overhang at the entry and living room are cantilevered.


SITE Completed in October 2004, the Hill House was designed under challenging conditions generated by modern problems of building on a hillside. Located in Pacific Palisades, California, the irregularly shaped lot is situated on an uneven, downhill slope with panoramic views of the canyon to Santa Monica Bay. With the canonical Eames House nearby, the 3,300 square foot Hill House provocatively continues the Case Study House tradition of experimentation and reinvention of Los Angeles domestic living. HILLSIDE ZONING Increasingly in Los Angeles local hillside ordinances, building codes, coastal regulations and design review boards have imposed restrictions on hillside construction with the goal of preserving the profile of the natural hillside terrain by limiting building heights, siting and massing. The Hill House establishes a new precedent for hillside building by liberating the design from these restraints by strategically transforming the stringent criteria into a sculptural, structurally intelligent design that seamlessly engages with the surrounding site. Maximum efficiency is achieved in the performance of building on an inclined plane by registering a site-specific form.


PLANNING Individual programmatic spaces are assembled within the fixed building envelope much like a contortionist, artfully compressing the mass of their body into unique configurations. By eroding all non-structural walls and partitions, the space flows seamlessly between the three levels stacked within the exterior skin. An upper level semi-private loft space and a secluded lower master suite sandwich the central public living and dining area at middle the entry level. The open folded plate steel and glass stair vertically stitches the three levels together. The smooth polished interior skin is shaped and curved selectively to accentuate the geometry of the house and to accommodate storage and mechanical services. WINDOWS & LIGHT The aperture strategy results from a desire to minimize total quantity for privacy and to maximize individual size for views, passive ventilation and light. The abstract street façade is blank and windowless to provide acoustical baffling and privacy while the ‘back’ of the house has spectacular views of the canyon and ocean. Large sliding glass doors in the double-height living area open into concealed pockets, drawing the outside into a gazebo-like room hovering over the steep canyon. Other windows and doors are recessed within the building volume to form deep sills and thresholds which frame specific views out while limiting views into the house. The placement of skylights in the flat and sloped roofs blurs conventional differentiation between roof and wall. Indirect light sources and unanticipated views through these openings enhance the three-dimensional quality of the space.

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