A design process of subtraction, not addition

Sculpting away rather than building up until the experience of the site is dominant

by Megan 18 December 2012
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    Located in Sagaponack, New York between the Atlantic Ocean and a freshwater pond, this residence is designed for an adventurous couple and their four sons. Due to coastal and wetland zoning the site had daunting regulations and a limited building envelope that dictated a program that stood as a barrier between the ocean and the pond. Thus the design process was one of subtraction rather than addition: carving away at the solid mass of the house to reconnect site features and views and to distil the experience of the place.

    Spaces run the full width of the house with floor to ceiling sliding doors on both sides. The spaces create apertures through which views, light, and air completely penetrate the house, dissolving its mass. Passers-by see directly through the house to the sky and landscape beyond. With the sliding doors open and recessed into the adjacent walls, interior spaces are transformed from formal rooms to open pavilions, merging seamlessly with the site. The plinth of the elevated house is carved into a series of stepped planters that are further sculpted into the entry steps, mediating the different grades required by flood control regulations.

    The design was to nest spaces within one another: operable partitions pull out from the walls of the living room, carving out a media room within the living room when privacy is desired. Conversely, with the partitions open, the media room merges with the living room for large gatherings.

    Materials were chosen not only for their workability, but also for their durability in the harsh coastal environment. Heavy gauge corten steel siding is zero maintenance in spite of being relentlessly sandblasted by the wind. Cedar siding and screens are finished using a Victorian technique in which the iron sulphate in a blend of white vinegar and iron filings reacts with the tannins in wood, creating an ebony finish that penetrates through the material and will not require refinishing. Geothermal heating and cooling and vegetated roofs further reduce the environmental impact.

    Using the design approach of sculpting away rather than building up, the house is pared down until the experience of the extraordinary site is dominant.

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