The Middle Half: transforming the 1962 hillside home in Mill Valley
by Pooja Suresh HollannavarDec 20, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Pallavi MehraPublished on : Feb 20, 2023
San Francisco-based Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW) recently undertook an architectural renovation and landscape design of a 1930s home. A couple with three children reached out to SAW to expand a three-bedroom Spanish Revival home and to remediate and reclaim the soil below the home. The private residence was expanded by SAW both vertically and horizontally to include six bedrooms and 4,738 square feet of interior space. Known as the Wraparound House, the home is located in the Marina neighbourhood of San Francisco, United States. It came to the attention of the homeowners that the neighbourhood's land comprises contaminated soil, from residue released by the former PG&E North Beach Manufactured Gas Plant, which was operational from 1891 until it was damaged in the 1906 earthquake. Therefore, the land had to be remediated. Along with excavating the top four to six feet of soil necessary for remediation, the architects were also tasked with handling the instability of the landfill.
SAW is a transdisciplinary design firm, operating at the nexus of architecture, landscape, and urban design. While excavating the top layer of soil, the architects lifted the entire house, and modernised the entire foundation with a thick mat slab. This gave them an opportunity to redistribute load bearing walls throughout the ground floor, opening up possibilities for unusual spatial configurations and outdoor areas. “The Wraparound House lifts the ground plane from an extended back yard, up through a series of terraces, connecting across four levels of shifting vantage points, and allowing for a continuous experience of the landscape from the remediated soil of the yard all the way up to the roof deck with panoramic views of the city and bay. Rather than simply building upon the new ground, we saw the challenge as redistributing the ground vertically across the site, throughout the building. While many buildings have terraces, or balconies, or things like that, we set out to maintain a complete continuity of a new ground across the entire house, ensuring that every roof was not so much the top of something, but the bottom of something - a new ground,” mentions Dan Spiegel, architect and founding partner of SAW.
A dramatic interior staircase design forms the heart of the home and an exterior stair also connects the floors via the outdoor terraces. Each floor of the home has a different relationship to the outdoors. While designing the terrace of the home, the focus was on the spectacular views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The children's bedrooms were given direct access to the backyard, which functioned as a verdant backdrop for the living room. Finally, the primary bedroom was enveloped with expansive windows to let in abundant natural light.
"It sort of works as a gradient: the spaces are more public, more outward looking at the top, and more private, more inward looking at the bottom. The rounded edges of the garden path play in the perpetual motion game too, forming a scooter/bike track; the rounded corners of the family room gradually guide you out to the terrace; the master bathroom is conceived of as a thickened window for the bedroom, balcony-like and perched over the bay. On most days, I am just as likely to take the exterior stairs as the interior stairs to move between rooms. It doesn’t quite look like it, but it works a bit like a mobius strip in that way,” adds Spiegel.
This rounded form of the building was inspired from the arched doorways in the existing 1930s Spanish Revival-style home. For the interior design, conceptualised by designer Heidi Kim of White Space Design, the Spanish Revival style of the original home inspired the use of geometric forms. The curving arches bend light softly, blurring the divisions between spaces, and defining movement through the home. “In fact, the name 'Wraparound' is derived from the impact of subtle variation in corner geometry on directional movement, in the same way a rounded corner on a hockey rink serves to help wrap around the back of the goal and control a puck to the other side. We asked ourselves: what are the limits of such a legible, recognisable form? When we cut the arch in the living room in half and began pulling the corners apart, the Spanish Revival arch became the Streamline Moderne wall. This was exciting to us, as we had been contemplating the context and how to make a house from 1931 and an addition from 2020 (the future!) connect without solely relying on ornamental references. But it turns out, by experimenting with the 1931 arch forms, we re-discovered that 1930's Marina architecture already had a vision for the future, which was the subsequent Streamline Moderne style. We wanted to embrace this link, and, of course, we found these forms to be beautiful," mentions Spiegel.
Moreover, when it came to landscape design, SAW had to start from scratch as the top layer of the soil had to be removed. While designing the backyard, the architects kept in mind the fact that it would be experienced from multiple floors and planned it accordingly. New soil was brought in, artificial turf was used for the lawn and mature trees were planted.
"Before any other plants were decided upon, we handpicked two October Glory Red Maple trees for their dramatic fall foliage and elegant branching structure to anchor the back of the long property. They were planted as soon as the ground floor was demolished and we could safely crate in the large trees through the open construction site. Then after the curves of the building began to take shape, we played upon the round arches in the garden as well with globe boxwoods and an hourglass pathway to soften what would have otherwise been a long rectangular lawn," concludes Megumi Aihara, architect and founding partner of SAW. Thus, SAW was successfully able to maintain the aesthetic of the Spanish Revival style home while renovating it.
Name: Wraparound House
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA
Interior Area: 4,738 square feet (4,131-sf Living + 607sf garage)
Exterior Area: 1370 square feet of terraces + roof deck
Existing Area (before project): 2,340sf Living + 581 sf garage
Total Increase in Area: 1,817sf
Lot Area: 3,436sf
Architecture and Landscape Architecture: Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW)
Project Team: Kenneth Hu, Max Obata, Sharon Ling, Darcy Spence, Max Kronauer, Dan
Spiegel, Megumi Aihara
General Contractor: Forma
Interior Design: White Space Design/Heidi Kim
Structural Engineer: Element Structural Engineers
Geotechnical Engineer: Murray Engineering
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