Space is at a premium, the environment is ailing, and the American dream—a house for everyone—is receding into the distance, at least for now. Architects are responding by taking cramped postwar boxes and transforming them with modernist additions. They’re tapping into the sun and less into the grid while dipping into a new warehouse of recycled materials. They’re even, in the case of architect Steven Ehrlich, bringing multiple generations together in a mix of private and public spaces.
For his Venice home, completed in 2005, Ehrlich responded to the narrow lot by building vertically and to the dense neighborhood in screening exposed areas from the street. Those spots hidden from view open up entirely: Three walls consist of 16-foot-high sliding glass doors that let in ocean breezes for natural air-conditioning. A giant Aleppo pine provides a dose of nature and shade; more protection comes from electronically controlled scrims on a steel exoskeleton. One door channels the cooling waters of a pool and another the tranquillity of a courtyard that, joined with the living and dining spaces, becomes an extended space for entertaining. Ehrlich chose materials that needed no paint: The Cor-ten steel has acquired its trademark rusty coating and the copper a mellow patina, while the Trex composite siding weathers gently without a single dab of stain. Photovoltaic cells provide a portion of the home’s electricity, and the concrete floor’s radiant heating banishes the cold during the few months it’s chilly. The rest of the year, with the walls open wide to the elements, you’d never know the city had you surrounded.
Architect’s POV: Steven Ehrlich
» The events of a recent day illustrate why I love my house. My wife and sister are talking over coffee in the kitchen. My sister, who lives in New York, is working on a movie and is staying with us for a few months. Upstairs sleeping in a bedroom “pod” is my youngest daughter, 23, who just graduated from college in New York. In the guest house is my middle daughter, 29, who has been living with us for the past year. That night my eldest daughter, 33, her husband, and their 18-month-old son, who live nearby, will join us for dinner. I designed our house to be enjoyed by my extended clan, but at the time I didn’t know how often my family members would come to roost. We are lucky that the Southern California climate allows us to make full use of our outdoor courtyards, which function as additional rooms. We live close enough to stores and the beach that we can walk or bike to them. I believe in reinforcing pedestrian communities and encouraging multigenerational living. Courtyards can connect people to nature even when space is limited. My own home is an ongoing experiment in living.
Illustration by Paul Rogers
Photographs by Tim Street-Porter