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  • Catherine Holliss


At Sander Architects we love the opportunity to think about what the exterior surface of a building will look like: the “skin” of the building. The skin is not just a decoration—in Southern California it might be a shade screen that reduces heat build-up and helps lower energy costs. A translucent skin might increase natural light in the interior, also reducing energy usage. The right material could even eliminate maintenance costs over decades.

On one project, Green Houses we knew we wanted a shade screen and we spent months experimenting with different materials and approaches until we settled on aluminum angles. The architect produced a sketch of a twelve-percent diagonal and the contractor mocked up several ways to attach the angled metal to the building. It became one of the defining characteristics for the residences.

On another project, Desert Canopy House, Whitney Sander was inspired by diamond patterns he noticed in the sand on Venice Beach. 4,000 square feet of custom tiles later and the house felt like it was rising out of a wind-blown sand dune—an effect that is beautiful but also practical due to the extra insulation the tiles provide against the brutal desert temperature swings.

The senior couple that commissioned Residence for a Sculptor requested that the exterior of the house be made from something that would never need maintenance. Sander suggested a metal standing seam material designed for roofing. With its 20-year warranty as a roof, he estimated that the material should last double or even triple that time on the exterior walls. The edgy, industrial look of the residence came directly out of a pragmatic request.

A wall of translucent material, punctured with windows, floods the interior of a Residence at the Butte with light on even the greyest and rainiest of days in this Pacific Northwest home. On the days when the weather is glorious, the views over the water to the distant butte for which the house was named, inspire the owner to paint large-scale canvases of wildly colorful horses and landscapes.

One of our projects under construction is a concert hall for the talented students at Idyllwild Arts Academy. The rusted steel panels are folded according to the rhythm of a musical phrase. This gives the skin a “geography” that feels appropriate against the surrounding mountain landscape of rocky granite outcrops. It does not hurt that maintenance for the school will be minimal. The bottom line is that no two contexts are the same and, in our practice, it is rare that we repeat ourselves when thinking about and designing the skin of a building. Green Houses Desert Canopy House Residence for a Sculptor Residence at the Butte Idyllwild Arts Academy


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