Article No: 155

2006-05-03 08:53:56
The Brooktree project - Los Angeles
By: Carole McMichael


Photography courtesy of Concrete Masonry Designs

Design concept
Situated in Rustic Canyon, one of the most serene areas in Los Angeles, the 4,000-square-foot Ward Luu residence offers a view of the canyon and gently sloping hillsides to the east. The house is effectively divided into two separate but connected areas: a public pavilion with the kitchen, living room and dining areas; and a private pavilion containing the bedrooms. Filtering in the landscape, the site introduces a skewed procession that leads up to the pavilions and looks beyond to the additional structures. The residence, winner of the National Concrete Masonry Association's 2005 Residential Design Award of Excellence, is a success because it so harmoniously unifies the form and function of concrete block with the beauty of the natural setting.

Design solution
A glass-enclosed walkway bridges the two masses, taking optimal advantage of the location and surrounding landscapes. A third mass includes a double cantilevered guesthouse resting on top of a studio, accentuating the breezeway and intimate arrival area. Materials of burnished concrete block, galvanized steel paneling and glass complement the openness of the design and the integration of the object-like forms on the site. Working the landscape into one pictorial image, the simple lap pool lines the back of the property.

Block selection
Special attention was given to choosing the block that would become the defining motif in this home. Many textures, from craggy split face to sandblasted precision, and colors, from pale white to warm gray, were considered. The final choice, a custom-fabricated block of white cement with burnished faces, was selected for its unique beauty and its ability to play off the rustic nature of the site. To save cost, only the exposed face of the block was burnished. Scaled drawings of each block wall were color-coded and keyed to determine quantity and orientation of the burnished faces.

Block usage
The Ward Luu residence uses concrete block as functional and design elements throughout the home. The block anchors the house, providing mass as the buildings emerge from the slope and a counterbalance to the cantilevered pavilions resting on top.

On the exterior, the concrete block also serves as a visual contrast to the steel cladding and landscaping. The motif is continued through the interior with the blocks providing a warm balance between the dark stained wood floors and the white plaster walls and ceiling. In addition, the block highlights the connection between indoors and outdoors by continuing exterior walls and structural elements inside the home.

The Brooktree Project involved the demolition and replacement of an existing two-story home. The original home's siting was located on an upper plateau of the lot and was poised to overlook views into adjacent backyards. A second plan used the site's natural topography and foliage to achieve greater privacy and separation from neighboring lots. By shifting the new home forward and away from neighboring yards, additional stories of the new home could be claimed by exploiting the lot's location and building into the hillside. By building the home below tree level, its focus became more introverted, a retreat within a lush hillside garden.

Neal E. Jones, AIA, who served as a juror selecting the Brooktree Project for the Award of Excellence, says, "The project was well integrated within its site. This helped to reduce the overall size of the house. The house presents clean, modern lines on the interior and the balance between masonry and glass is excellent."

J. Bert Smith, P.E., who also served as a juror, says, "Concrete block was used effectively as functional and design elements to create an exceptional house that fits well within the landscape."

This article is preprinted with permission from Concrete Masonry Designs, courtesy of the National Concrete Masonry Association. Photography courtesy of Concrete Masonry Designs.