The clients for this Berkeley Hills home had recently retired from a life in academia. Moving out from the East Coast, they bought a home we had designed in the early 1990s. After a few years in that home, and now familiar with our work, they contacted me to pursue their dream of building a new home start to finish. We looked for land together and eventually they bought a double lot with spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay.
The primordial relationship of water and canyon wall was the metaphorical origin for the layout of the home. The water is constrained by the topography and yet needs an outlet. Each material and force yields to the other. At each end of our zinc canyon, at the outlets, a courtyard would naturally form, one towards the hillside and protected from the wind, the other towards the west, hanging, completely open to the views and the winds of the Bay.
Our concept was to create three wings connected by two breezeways, one open-air breezeway and one glazed. The transparent breezeways allow views out of the courtyard and their low rooflines accentuate the massing of the primary building elements. Set perpendicular to the glazed breezeway are two water features that appear to extend through the home and axially emphasize the view towards San Francisco Bay. Punctuating the hillside end of this water axis is a monolithic outdoor fireplace. Breaking the house into separate wings allowed us to create two distinct courtyards, one protected and the other open to the almost constant onshore fog and breezes from the Bay.
The house’s exterior is alternately sheathed in zinc shingles, reminiscent of the Craftsman architecture of a century earlier, or stucco. We designed strongly canted shed roofs with deep eaves and delicate structural steel supports to give the house a distinctive look and provide protected exterior circulation and ample surface area for the extensive photovoltaic arrays that power the house.
The hardscape is minimalist, with white concrete extending seamlessly from inside the house and granite cobble bands set to the rhythm of the structural steel frame. The construction module of the home is literally encountered at street edge as you step across the first band of black granite cobbles. A progression begins. The landscape plantings are set on a rigorous grid behind low retaining walls of Cor-ten steel and further extend the strong organization of the building architecture onto the site.