• Catherine Holliss

Let There Be Light

WHEN THE INSPIRATION FROM A SITE VISIT CHANGES YOUR DESIGN

Floating House has began construction in Venice Beach! On one of our first visits, during demo and foundation prep, we saw the project with the roofing material removed, leaving just the original diagonal sheathing. This allowed the light to dapple through the joists onto the ground below. It was so beautiful, and so unusual, that we and our clients fell deeply in love with the effect.

It started an entire conversation about how we could replicate the feeling with new lighting once the roof and ceiling were replaced.

With the sheathing removed, light dapples through the joists.

The ideas were flying fast and furious: perhaps a series of LED strips might work. What about hundreds of tiny bulbs scattered across the ceiling? Too expensive and impractical? Would fewer bulbs achieve the same thing? We didn’t nail a solution and had to move on. After all, there were other things to discuss: the upcoming concrete pour, plumbing, modifications to the kitchen floor plan. Construction is a serious business. Yet, as often as it can seem painfully slow, there are times when decisions fly fast and furious.

These are moments when our projects have been changed, for the better, by allowing the sudden inspiration to take shape, and then running with an idea. No mater how many virtual renderings have preceded, standing in the physical space is the most affecting moment and can often change the course of a design. From small details to large, things change.

Architecture is like sculpture on a grand scale. It can be almost shocking to see drawings come to life, to see ideas turned into steel and concrete, wood and plaster. Walking onto site can feel like a dream come true. In fact, it is the process of a dream literally coming true.

In Canal House, curved acrylic panels create a poetic sweep from railing to walls, letting light permeate the space. Yet these were an inspiration that only came to architect Whitney Sander once the house was in framing and he walked the site. An inspiration that is now one of the signature design moves of the entire project. Architecture writer, Michael Webb called the result, "a laboratory for light."

Curved acrylic panels create a poetic sweep from railing to walls, letting light permeate the space.

During construction of Residence for a Briard, we walked onto site and realized that our window schedule, if built as drawn, would perfectly frame the neighbor’s roof with its air conditioning units and antennae. We spent that day with blue painters tape outlining the location of the translucent panels, the transparent windows and the orange inserts. It was a day when poetry and pragmatics came together—with the happy outcome that the views are now carefully curated to capture sky and treetops. That would be impossible to achieve without allowing some flexibility once we could walk onto site and face the reality of neighbors.

The placement of the transparent windows was decided onsite, once Residence for a Briard was in construction.

So, back to Venice Beach and Floating House.

It was clear that we could provide the recessed can lights and sconces, as drawn, or decide to run with the inspiration caused by the happy accident of light streaming through the roof timbers. It was also clear that the idea needed more work,

Inspiration came later, at a stop light, meditating on the beauty of birds perched on the overhead electric wires. They made dots along a line in the sky.

Why not use string lights, as we had done as part of our design for a Santa Monica Office? There, the idea created an almost celestial effect, the corporate version of romantic lights strung across a patio or plaza.

Santa Monica Office, left, and Patio lights strung across a commecial plaza at right.

Or, another thought, what about using laser-cut metal screens and providing a light source above? The effect might be almost identical to the slashes of light with the added bonus that the light source above could be LED and low-cost.

The tradition of playing with light-and-shadow is an ancient one employed across many cultures and creating a modern interpretation promises to have plenty of exciting potential.

Screens and sunlight: an ancient tradition with many potential modern interpretations.

The bottom line to inspiration is that it can strike when least expected.

It will be fun to watch this project and see if a site visit on a sunny day has the potential to be the inspiration for one of the signature design elements of the finished house.

You never know — it has happened before.

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