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Three Houses That Would be Modern Masterpieces (But Aren't)

You will be assimilated: the Borg ship lands in L.A.

Michael HernandezYou will be assimilated: the Borg ship lands in L.A.

Despite what Dwell Magazine says, you don't have to be rich and live on the Westside to have a forward-thinking modern house. So take note you students of SCI-Arc, you patrons of Pomona School of Architecture: these three Southland homeowners leveraged ingenuity and practicality to construct affordable abodes that, err, redefine modern architecture.

3. The Borg Ship

The residents above, for instance, were able to merge the practicality of right angle architecture with their fondness for the Borg of Star Trek.

Twin tower chimneys flank each end of the house like warp drives, echoing the tailpipes of the similarly designed SUV in the driveway. Tan textured stucco wraps no-nonsense aluminum windows that, despite their views, remain sealed with vertical blinds ("Shields up!") The glass block windows on the left continue the security-minded design, providing enough protection against phaser blasts, yet allowing solar radiation to enter the bowels of the ship.

The architects preserved the original front of the dwelling as a nod to history -- or to create the impression that the ship landed directly on the back of the house.

Three Houses That Would be Modern Masterpieces (But Aren't)

Michael Hernandez

2. The Convertible Cottage

Car culture influenced suburban architecture across the Southland, but no one could have anticipated that it would go this far. The owners of this little number put the top down on design by building the first ever convertible cottage.

On first glance, it would appear that the owners just ran out of money during construction. More likely is the local legend that says the house was designed by an engineers who created the Amphicar amphibious car in the early 1960s. Not content to stop with the invention of the boat/car, the designer moved to L.A. to work on this case study house/car and construct the world's first convertible home.

Unfortunately, building codes of the 1960s weren't yet ready for the advanced engineering of the convertible house. The retractable roof was replaced with a flat, full-time hard-top, leaving us wondering about what might have been the next big thing in home design.

Three Houses That Would be Modern Masterpieces (But Aren't)

Michael Hernandez

1. A home designed by Frank Gehry -- or was it really Frank and Gary?

Before his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and decades before Disney Hall, Frank Gehry's first deconstructivist residence may, in fact, have been built in this unassuming Southland neighborhood -- not Santa Monica like the impresarios of architecture would have us believe.

Although the Building Department lists "Frank and Gary" as the official architect, the residents swear their home was designed by the architectural super star, whom they befriended while knocking back liters of beer at the Alpine Village one Octoberfest.

It was here that the granddaddy of L.A. architecture allegedly honed his craft by modifying an existing neo-Neo-Colonial home. With slide rules instead of supercomputers to assist his design, and some help from a cousin in the stucco business, Gehry used sand instead of stainless steel to let his imagination fly.

Triangular planes of blue textured stucco undulate back from the street like a Braque cubist still-life, hoisting a UHF antenna into the sky (for better reception). In a compromise with his clients, Gehry constructed the only regulation residential ski jump in Los Angeles on the front portico roof. This feature is a big hit with the neighbor's kids come winter.

Like most extreme home makeovers, something from the past must be incorporated into the design. In this case it's the power tie of a red brick chimney that provides a romantic glow in the winter, and pulls double duty as a crematory for the funeral home next door in the summer.

With proceeds from her bingo winnings and trips to the Indian casino, the owner's wife added to the original Gehry home in several stages. First came the mother-in-law suite, a yoga studio, a man-cave for watching sports, then a room for her porcelain doll collection.

Before they knew it, their home had become a collage of triangular peaks and valleys -- an abstraction of the Thomas Kinkade mountain ranges hanging on their living room walls? Or, maybe these multiple roofline mountaintops remind them of their first meeting with Gehry at the Alpine Village. If you listen carefully you can still hear an oompah band....

Michael Hernandez blogs at badhouse.posterous.com and kitschycooking.wordpress.com. For more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.