LOOK ACROSS A HILLSIDE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and you will see an unbelievable variety of residential styles, types, forms, and volumes. Traditional Mission-style haciendas mingle with sleek midcentury modern residences, tiny ranch houses, nondescript tract homes, huge McMansions, Victorians, ramshackle beach houses, and Arts and Crafts bungalows. In short, one of the most varied urban fabrics in the United States, if not the world.
To many this jumble represents freedom. Freedom from established, accepted aesthetics, from space limitations found in denser cities, and from harsh climates that limit a house's form and how it can interact with its surroundings. That freedom, combined with enlightened clients and a love for the single-family house, has made Southern California a center for residential innovation and experimentation for over a century. Millions of people have come to this beautiful stretch of land to start anew, and talented architects have been no exception.
From Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Pierre Koenig to Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, successive generations of experimental architects working in Southern California have continued to rethink contemporary conventions. They have broken the barriers that separate inside from outside, rethought how rooms and people should interact, and used inexpensive materials to create new building methods and styles. This tradition thrives even as new Southern California designers face challenges including a reduction in open land and ever more strict zoning regulations. Veteran firms as well as hungry young designers both prosper here. While influenced by the designs of their predecessors, they are adapting to—and are stimulated by—restrictions that force creative solutions. Innovative forms, plans, programs, and techniques continue to emerge regularly.
Perhaps above all, architects working in Southern California cannot be accused of being timid. They exploit new technologies to create innovative forms and structures, and to build in locations that were once deemed impossible. Striking examples include Escher GuneWardena's Jamie Residence in Pasadena, a rectangular structure lofted high in the air like a bridge to provide breathtaking views and minimize disruption of the land underneath, Patrick Tighe's Tigertail, with its angular, cantilevered second-floor roof shaped like an airplane wing, and Johnston Marklee's Hill House, with its seamless envelope and precarious site on the side of a steep ravine. Others, like Wallace Cunningham's Crescent House with its multiple ramps, terraces, and curving concrete forms, are as much sculpture as house.
These new structures, like the classic designs that came before them, are designed to embrace the varied, beautiful landscapes and benign climate of the area, just in different ways. Sliding glass doors, windows, and skylights continue to increase in size and in their ability to cleverly disappear discreetly into walls, opening structures fully to the outside. Houses today often meld unobtrusively into their surroundings, adopting the colors, textures, and even topography of the land they rest upon—Griffin Enright's Point Dume residence curves sinuously in response to its lot's natural undulations; its cladding and interior fittings were also chosen to match the surrounding hardscape. Safdie Rabines's aptly named Tree House in San Diego is perched on the edge of a heavily wooded ravine and thanks to outsized sliding doors and clerestory windows opens so completely that birds fly through it as if it were part of the forest itself.
Excerpted from Living West by Sam Lubell. Copyright © 2009 by The Monacelli Press. Excerpted by permission of The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.