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Houses by Stephen Phillips Architects: Different Contemporary Strokes

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on September 03, 2016 at 01:56 PM

To contemporise a rendering or design, it needs to be continuously re-invented. For, ‘contemporary’ needs to belong always to the present, the latest. Up until the ‘modern’ style of art or architecture, it was not just a departure from whatever had been so far, but had to conform to some norms of the given style, and was even relegated to a history, consequently. But, ‘contemporary’ means freedom to explore and re-interpret continually as it always belongs to the present, always just preceding the future and the futuristic. American architect Stephen Phillips of SPARCHS, California, as a researcher and an educator of architecture has always held that ‘every design has a responsibility to engage in a dialogue with contemporary world culture’. They have recently rendered some remarkable interpretations of the ‘contemporary’ in houses of varied sizes set in varied locations. We take a look at a couple of them, observing that both have radically experimental forms even while conforming to a generally contemporary spatial language. 

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Linden Street, Hayes Valley, San Francisco ( images : cover, 1 – 13)

Essentially an infill duplex in a packed mixed use neighbourhood of San Francisco, this heavily glazed 4 storey town-house, referred to as ‘black mass’, and its contemporary design language stand out boldly amidst the mostly Victorian/ Edwardian and other classical vernacular of the houses around it. The façade, which stands directly on the road, is an interesting exercise in massing of volumes in the narrow space available. Imposing in its black painted finish of zinc panels that frame massive glazed surfaces, the design cleverly re-interprets the local building code which covers bay-window, cornice and awnings, and combines them into this contemporary articulation. 

This front face of huge openings peels off to reveal 390 sq. m. of an open plan interior with double height vertical circulation volumes, creating a state-of-the-art urban habitat suiting today’s highly visible and active lifestyle. Devoid of cosy corners tucked away into privacy, the interiors are a free expanse of spaces flowing into each other. The interface between exteriors and interiors is sharply emphasized at the point where the curvature of the upper-floor slab faces the flat linearity of the window glazing. As the daylight floods in through the panoramic glazing at various levels, it lights up the minimally, yet smartly, dressed inner spaces in an open, bright and optimistic hue. Almost devoid of any partitions, the interiors openly and boldly reach out to the external world.

By superimposing the high visibility and transparency of a commercial store-front on a quiet suburban residence, SPARCHS accords due recognition to the need for a public imagery of private life in contemporary times. In Stephen Phillips’ own words, ‘this modern housing design provides space for high-performance lifestyle, publicity, and spectacle all from the security of home’.

Bayview 5 Residence, Claremont, San Diego (images 14, 15)

Another of SPARCHS’ striking creations set in a totally different site environment in the same Californian region is the residence for the Bayview Group, who are custom home developers, on their lot no.5. Having previously designed a series of houses for the clients to sell paved the way for the designers to convincingly innovate in this case. A sprawling holiday home set on the top of an undulating terrain commanding captivating views of a large canyon and the Pacific ocean called for a stellar show of creative planning, which the designers have delivered in their unique style. Bayview 5 Residence perches on its lofty vantage, shrouded snugly by its enveloping helmet-like roof from under which an array of glazed surfaces and balconies peep out like a crowd of eyes competing to catch every glimpse of the scenes panned out in front of them. 

Long winding balconies wrap themselves around on both sides of the middle (or main) floor, spreading out from dining and sitting areas that flank a central double height living room, which contains comfortably normative elements like the stairs and a huge glazed front. Kitchen, breakfast and family rooms, too, open out to views and on to the balconies. The lower floor bedroom openings being shaded by these balconies enjoy a protected view, while the upper floor bedrooms have unhindered views shaded by the wrap of the roof just pulled over them. The effect of the façade receding with the rise of floors makes the house merge into the hilly terrain. Right at the central peak, the shawl-like roofline pulls back to make way for a roof top open terrace. 

Both of the above examples of residences by Stephen Phillips are innovative articulations in a contemporary design language of the normative practice in each typology. Quirky, yet comfortably elegant; breaking free while conforming; SPARCHS produces some of the finest pieces of architecture meant for routine living.

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