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©smith-clementi 2020

Nowita Tree House
Venice, California

 

"It ain't no sin, to take off your skin and dance around in your bones” 

    Tom Waits

 

Located on a pedestrian access “walk-street”, the original house was a 1920's Venice Beach bungalow of 600 square feet. In 1996 the owner architects added two second floor bedrooms and bath, preserving the original ground floor footprint and massing relative to the neighborhood. With this change the house doubled in size grew to 1245 sq. ft. View and shade orientation was coordinated with the large 80 year old Magnolia Grandiflora on the adjacent property. In 2002 this adjacent properly and its single story bungalow was acquired by the grandmother allowing for communal use of the yards. Both houses in effect pinwheel off the massive magnolia. 

 

The house grew an additional 790 sq. ft. in 2012 with the addition of the second lot, reconfiguration of public and private areas, and new garage and master suite.  The resulting home now revolves around indoor/outdoor connections to the vast patio space with decorative and edible gardens.  The front volume maintains a local vernacular lap siding as a signal to the house’s bungalow origins with a scale appropriate for the walk street, while the expressive back volume sports exaggerated vertical framing as sunshades to the glass master bedroom volume.  “A house and its antithesis,” is how the architects/homeowners describe the relationship between the two elements. 

 

The structural system of the new second floor addition is made of 34 wood columns that cantilever out of the garage masonry shear walls to hold up and stabilize the roof. Each member is necessary and is calculated. Their repetition is not just visual, but results from the safety redundancies prescribed by the structural code. This iteration can be exploited to provide shade, pattern, and views from the interior. 

 

For almost 100 years this house has evolved with the neighborhood, and this time it seemed important to be sincere about just what holds things up. Architecture often incorporates sleight of hand to showcase its virtuosity. After 2008 this just seems flamboyant. Architecture once looked for transparency of means, a generation later it asked for relationships. Both just wanted the truth.