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Jovanovich House by Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects, Los Angeles, USA

Lorcan O’Herlihy’s renovation fully exploits a difficult hillside site. Photography by Michael Weschler

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects has mastered the art of building on steep or confined sites and its houses respond creatively to the topography and the urban context. Most recently, the southern California firm transformed a hermetic A frame house perched on the edge of a canyon by making modest additions, opening up the interiors to decks and sweeping views, and wrapping the hybrid form in a white scrim. The crisp cut-out carapace sits lightly on the street and from below it appears as insubstantial as a kite, floating free of the wooded slope.

To accommodate a young family and their guests and to take advantage of a 180° view, the architects gutted the existing shell, enclosed the carport to serve as a spacious foyer, and cantilevered a garage and guest suite out to the south. The new rooms add only 80m² to the existing 340m² of enclosed space, but the decks furnish another 200m². ‘We took the old structure as a found object to be cut away and opened up,’ says Lorcan O’Herlihy. ‘The task of infusing a banal house with energy and light was harder than starting from scratch, but the cost of building anew on such a site would have been prohibitive.’

‘The big move was to unify old and new with PVC-coated polyester woven yarn, stretched taut on a lightweight metal frame. The mesh is cut away to frame views out and up to the sky. It conceals and reveals, provides shade and thermal protection, and adds depth to the composition’

The layering and articulation of the facades echoes that of the practice’s Formosa condominiums in West Hollywood, which assert their urbanity as a metallic sculpture in fire-engine red. These facades are also inspired by art works - O’Herlihy is an accomplished painter who created his own tower house in Venice as a three-dimensional version of his geometric abstracts (AR January 2004). Here, on a quiet residential street, the effect has to be subtler and softer. ‘We chose the fabric, which should last five years, in preference to perforated metal, because it is light, ephemeral and tactile,’ says O’Herlihy.

The house exploits the shifts of level on the site. An inclined bank leads to the entry foyer, from where a crisp steel stair descends to the living room. A long hallway along the west front links the open kitchen to the double-height living room, media room and guest room. Pocketing glass sliders open onto a broad wooden deck that runs the length of the house. Bleachers and steps descend to a pool and garden down the slope.

The decks extend the house into the landscape and reveal the drama of the guest suite to the rear of the garage, which is supported on a tree-like structure of steel tubes. Within, stairs lead up to an all-white master suite, infused with natural light, that opens onto roof decks. From this lofty perch, you feel as though you are floating above the expanse of trees and the blue blur of the ocean.

Architect Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, Los Angeles, USA
Project team Lorcan O’Herlihy, Pierere De Angelis, Banv Altman

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