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Belzberg Architects - Skyline Residence in Los Angeles, Ca Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 October 2009 08:49

Perched atop a ridgeline in the Hollywood Hills, the presence of the Skyline Residence represents an honest approach to creating an environmentally sensitive building without sacrificing beauty nor budget.
The pre-existing site presented a challenge in terms of constructability, the client presented the challenge of limited allowable expenses, and the architect was resilient to marginalize beauty and originality. The requirements of an architecture to satisfy each of these constraints are found in that which is constant and continuous at a given site.

Capitalizing on and working within the physical, visual, and psychological characteristics of a given site fosters value in the relationship between building and site. Beyond incorporating various sustainable strategies out of pure concern for the environment, the budgetary limitations imposed on material choice forced the architect to implement strategies for using resources in close proximity to the site. While the building is not fused with the ground formally, it’s relationship to ground, sky and the elements through a comprehensive understanding of locality is symbiotic.

Site plan (click to enlarge)

Site Observations

Because the site exists along a ridgeline, the shape of workable land was generally narrow and linear abutted at both sides by steep, brush-covered hillside. The workable area was also compressed by an easement flanking the Southwestern edge. The earth itself is partially composed of granite implying difficulty for excavation. Simultaneously, the root system of the surrounding brush helps to prevent the less solid areas of earth from sliding making the occupation of the hillside a feat which would require ample resources and additional equipment. Beyond the physical constraints, opportunity presented itself by realizing viewing angles in comparison to solar angles. Each had the capacity to compliment each other in order to maximize natural lighting and views without increasing future cooling demands.

Sustainable Initiatives That Are Affordable?

From the beginning, incorporating sustainable design strategies was a guiding principle in developing the design.

Skyline_05The increasing popularity of ‘green’ products and the emerging state of newer ‘green’ technologies are changing the way architects perceive the substance of each design, however, cost is still quite prohibitive, especially for single-family residences. At the same time, some of the most common or basic strategies to incorporate natural solutions are also some of the cheapest. The Skyline Residence was built for $180 per square foot and incorporates a multitude of green tactics for building sensitively and responsibly.

Protection from direct sunlight, optimum viewing angles, and maximum day-lighting were parameters which informed the organization of spaces and the composition of exterior wall treatments. The Southwest facing façade is exposed to low, late evening sunlight. On the interior, a single-loaded corridor was created to act as a heat buffer between the glazing and the bedrooms. In addition to deep shadowing eaves, a custom screen was installed made of Extira, a low formaldehyde emitting composite lumber. While acting primarily as a shading device, the entire elevation composed of these slightly offset pieces of lumber creates a unique visual texture viewable by residence to the West. Contrarily, the Northeast side of the building which is entirely glazed has dramatic views of downtown Los Angeles, Laurel Canyon and the San Fernando Valley from the South to North entirely.
Winds are created through the valleys on either side of the house and move linearly, paralleling the length of the house. Oversized, hinged double-doors open on either side of the living room which not only invite the prevailing winds to flow uninterrupted through the interior space, but also engender feelings of being outside.

Skyline_08This feeling is dramatically enhanced through the use of a floating orb fireplace, an infinity edge view, and a concrete materiality which extends beyond the threshold to the pool. In another are of the house, the corridor leading to the bedrooms has openings at either end which facilitate an airflow past each room, and openings from each room to the rear yard draw on the cool, moving air from the corridor through the length of the house.

Due to the severity of slope and the dense granite stone beneath the surface, minimal excavating was used. This technique not only reduced expendable energy in operating machinery, but removed only earth which could be reused in other areas of the project. For instance, the excavated granite was decomposed and re-used to level drain pipes, under concrete slabs, as a drainage field under the pool and as a walking surface for the viewing deck above the garage. This is generally an expensive material for the aforementioned uses, however, the material was free and the unnecessary shipping of sands and other pulverized materials was minimized.
There was also a constant interest in reducing emissions resulting from the transportation and importation of materials, specifically those materials which are commonly used in bulk at construction sites. While choosing furniture, fixtures and equipment is an obvious avenue to reduce energy consumption throughout the life of the house, the hidden elements of construction and structure were considered in this design as well.

Re-using the earth eliminated shipments of excavated earth out of the site and reduced the shipments of other decomposed materials into the site. California manufactured low-e glazing, steel, cmu blocks, and indigenous aggregates support this initiative as well. Wood framing and wood flooring leftovers were acquired from a nearby construction project and put to use in this project, and to dress the landscape, low water consumption flora from a residence to be demolished in the area was transplanted to this site as well.
Design Strategy; Folding, Framing and An Architectural Pangaea

Both the main house and the guest house are enclosed by a single folded surface with infill glazing and screened walls. The objective of such a strategy is to capitalize on framing extrinsic conditions and using the solid walls of the fold itself to affect the adjacent spaces. Low-e glazing makes up the entirety of the North and Northeast faces of the building and open up the interior to views of downtown Los Angeles, Laurel Canyon and the San Fernando Valley.
Skyline_13The building is oriented and planned in a way that each room has at least one fully glazed wall to capitalize on these dramatic views. The absence of one solid wall in each room also reveals the fold as a framing device. On the Southwest facades of each building, the fold maintains itself as a framing device, however in these instances as a screen wall designed to shade the interior from harsh evening sun while providing visual texture to the valley below.

Skyline_14The fold itself represents the only solid exterior surfaces defining the form of the building and defining an edge to adjacent exterior spaces. It is quite common that spaces surrounding a building compliment the building itself however struggle to really become a space in and of itself. The strategy for removing the guest house from the main house and including an auto court in between stems from the idea that complimenting forms which spatially could be perceived as once being united allow the interstitial space between a sense of connection, if only visual. In this design, the faces resulting from a separation in form created areas for videos and films to be viewed. The deck above the garage is now a gathering space for social events and a viewing platform for projections onto the Southern face of the guest house. This interaction between the main house and the guest house utilizes a normally singular and stagnant space in the auto court and activates the solid surface of the fold through an engagement with the surrounding space.


In an era of rapidly declining environmental quality, and in a society which is evermore concerned with its responsibility toward the situation, it’s become important to remember that very simple things such as understanding site conditions or local climate patterns are efficient methods of reducing architecture’s imposition on a landscape. Considering the multiple sets of constraints imposed upon this site, and the severity of such, achieving a residence of this quality for only $180 per square foot should promote a creative shakedown within all designers to surface the possibilities of designing quality and aesthetically pleasing structures which are also sensitive to local and global conditions.
Project Details and Credits:

Skyline Residence
Year 2007
Size 5,800 ft2
Location Los Angeles, Ca

Skyline, LLC

Design Architect: Belzberg Architects. Principal: Hagy Belzberg.
Design Team: Erik Sollom, Manish Desai
Construction Manager: Bill Bowen
Project Team:
Barry Gartin, Brock DeSmit, Carina Bien-WIllner, Dan Rentsch, David Cheung, Eric Stimmel, Erin McCook, Ryan Thomas
Structural Engineer: Dan Echeto
Landscape Architects: Nicholas Budd Dutton Architects
General Contractor: Belzberg Architects
Furniture: Elizabeth Paige Smith
Special Fabrication: Spectrum Oak
Photography: Benny Chan of Fotoworks

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