Venice vs. Santa Monica: Is the Architecture Different?

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Mon, May 23, 2011 at 3:03 PM
click to enlarge The Mohammed Residence was a standout on the tour. - TOM BONNER
  • Tom Bonner
  • The Mohammed Residence was a standout on the tour.

Those homeboys over at the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles (AIA|LA) are so bad, drumming up biz for their May 15 architectural home tour called "Ve ≠ SaMo (Venice is not Santa Monica)" by asking if the two locales drove different architecture -- say, Santa Monica soccer mom versus Venice Bohemian daddy. Everyone knows Venice is dead, cemented over by gentrification, and the emerging artist crew has moved onto Inglewood.

Instead, four residences -- two in Venice and two in Santa Monica north of that great Los Angeles dividing line Montana Avenue -- featured the distilled geometric shapes that embody modern architecture with little differentiation in terms of city status.

Still, we'll forgive the AIA|LA their hype because of the tour's compelling narrative: the four contrasting ideas the spaces embodied. The Mohammed Residence sifted a family's faith through the tenants of modernism, the Yin-Yang House wrapped around a family's life, Superb-a house spelled cool-couples prefab and the Hirshberg Residence's minimalist forms gave way to ultimate luxury.

Santa Monica

Home: Mohammed Residence

Tour stand-out quietly reflects the client's faith in the language of Modernism.

Architect: Robert Crocket, Crocket Architects

First impressions: Three different exterior skins -- glass, slotted-wood screens, and acid-etched glass -- produce the soft light that signals the home is about something beyond the material. Two sets of floating stairs remind you: you still inhabit the minimalist world.

Interior program: Crockett skillfully respects Islamic architecture's tradition of slowly revealed spaces while still providing volume. The home is a series of environments, gardens (seven in all) and courtyards on multiple floor levels.

click to enlarge The Mohammed Residence, designed by architect Robert Crocket, features beautifully filtered light. - TOM BONNER
  • Tom Bonner
  • The Mohammed Residence, designed by architect Robert Crocket, features beautifully filtered light.

Feature we wish developers would implement: On the surface, Crockett lost square footage when he cut a thirteen-foot by twenty-foot rectangle from the basement. But the move retools the space making it a naturally lit floor with rooms organized around a garden.

Gentle hints of driving forces: A pattern derived from Middle Eastern motifs are incorporated into a shiny white paneling system that screens a bathroom and transposes the ancient to the modern.

Exterior form: Purists will question the lack of clarity on the exterior, where multiple surfaces interrupt the basic dimension of a cube. Props to Crocket for the welcoming approach. A large glass door at center spot is sited at the end of an informal garden, an anomaly in the North-of-Montana-Avenue neighborhood where most homes present an inhospitable front to pedestrians.

What you won't find elsewhere: The simple tiled alcove for Wudu, a ritual washing for prior to prayer.

click to enlarge The Hirshberg Residence juxtaposes refined minimalist forms with luxe interiors. - LEE MANNIN
  • Lee Mannin
  • The Hirshberg Residence juxtaposes refined minimalist forms with luxe interiors.

Home: Hirshberg Residence

Distilled lines present an exquisitely refined minimalist form.

Architect: Steve Kent, Steven Kent Architect

First impressions:Two interlocking cubes of opaque material separate the private from the public on the street approach, while the home's rear elevation is fully transparent. Glass walls and outdoor rooms open onto an enclosed garden and pool.

Feature we wish developers would implement: Soft fabric keeps a set of metallic sliders upstairs from scratching each other.

What you won't find elsewhere: A false ceiling of narrow wood slats softly lights the wine cellar. The exterior room that re-works the notion of pool house offers towels next to a fireplace. A three-quarter-enclosed space off the open-plan kitchen dining living area is a lush home theater.

Crowd favorite?: For sure. Did someone just ask for the reservation desk?

The critic: The perfected forms impress but is a walk through the glossy pages of Architectural Digest what left-wing leanings modernists had in mind when they rejected the decorative trappings of wealth during the last century? The interior luxe becomes stilted in its designed-ness, but, hey, I'm a Venice girl with a bias derived from the explosive architects who used the most lowly materials in new ways to generate space.

click to enlarge A canopy of solar panels shades a walkway at the Yin Yang house. - TIBBY ROTHMAN
  • Tibby Rothman
  • A canopy of solar panels shades a walkway at the Yin Yang house.


Home: The Yin-Yang House.

Last year's National AIA Firm winner keeps it in the family.

Architect: Lawrence Scarpa, Brooks + Scarpa. (I'll disclose here the partners are long time friends that I collaborate with and on occasion do freelance work for.)

First impressions: Scarpa shelters family life with an L-shaped form that wraps around two sides of the property. He eschews a North-of-Montana-staple, the home theater, for an outdoor amphitheater that cascades down from the second floor of the home's bedroom wing, and finished with recycling materials. Meantime, Venice locals have complained about its size and don't get the home's material palette.

Surprise feature: The client asked Scarpa to keep the bedrooms small -- they're for sleeping, not isolating. The home's form and light footprint on the lot produces space that is frequently transitory and rarely fully enclosed, intersecting with family and environment.

Feature we wish developers would implement: Bedrooms are dropped between an interior hall and an exterior walkway. The latter is shaded by a line of solar panels and empties onto a set of stairs bordering the amphitheater -- and the swimming pool. No more kids walking through the house soaking wet.

Smooth moves: The interlocking pattern of cement board panels that form the skin of the home's entire street elevation disguise the garage.

click to enlarge Superb-a house as seen from the street. - ART GRAY
  • Art Gray
  • Superb-a house as seen from the street.

Home: Superb-a house. Prefab-centric indoor-outdoor space that includes playful materials.

Architect(s): Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir & Tryggvi Thorsteinsson

First impressions:Cut outs to modular prefab units placed in an f-shape, around an entrance way and shallow pool, result in a collection of outdoor rooms for a home that is more transparent than opaque. Ingjaldsdóttir and Thorsteinsson generate energy and movement through lightly placed wide plastic swaths of red and orange into the ground floor.

Feature we wish developers would implement: The home embraces Venice's tradition of community by revealing so much to the street.

Material world: Kitchen cabinets and chairs feature a rubber veneer made from recycled tires. The master bathroom's elastic rubber sink bounces. A set of floating stairs reads as impenetrable steel, but is coated with rubber dip that both softens and prevents slip.

Smooth moves: Abutting the entrance is a shallow pool of water and recycled blue glass. More than an aesthetic feature, it functions as a light source, reflects light into the home's interior and cools the home via breezes that pass over it.

click to enlarge The master bedroom of the Superb-a house features a rubber sink.
  • The master bedroom of the Superb-a house features a rubber sink.

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