[Stockman Residence, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
Located in Santa Monica, the Stockman Residence sits on a tight corner lot, at a very busy street intersection. The house is surrounded by tall apartment buildings on the south side and a modest park with dense treed areas on the east side. “Within this context, the traditional house typology with front yard, front porch and back yard is ill-suited and demands to be re-imagined so to better respond to its surrounding,” says the architect Roger Kurath.
The shape and programmatic configuration of this house is influenced by diverse external factors. With almost no opening on the public realm, the Stockman Residence appears as a bulwark and for a lot of residents, the building exhibits a shocking figure in the neighborhood, where most of the houses showcase varied styles which include the predominant Tudor Cottage, as well as Spanish Eclectic, French Eclectic, Minimal Traditional, Craftsman, Monterrey, and the flat roofed Pueblo Revival style.
[House on Ocean Park Boulevard, Image by Maxime Moreau]
Instead of reproducing a specific style, the form of the Stockman Residence responds to its context and better represents what is happening inside and outside the walls. The peripheral walls are placed at the edge of the property not only to maximize the living area, but also to protect the occupants from the traffic noise around the site. The architect used the concrete tilt-up walls to make the sound bounce off the dwelling and therefore creating incredibly silent interior spaces.
[Tilt-up wall, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
However, like Kurath explains: “For the city officials, the character of the concrete facades was considered too contemporary, cold, minimalist and brutal for the district. Our choice to build a healthy and comfortable environment to live in was unwanted in the Ocean Park district but, we can’t just reproduce, and paste on every façade some fake Spanish or Tuscan style just because most people enjoy this genre. In Los Angeles, this approach is a common thing, but I personally don’t believe in this concept. Instead, I have more faith in a straightforward approach, where every architectural element is purified. At the end, what is left is what is needed. Also, I presume that one reason why my construction looks so severe is because it had to do with the way people understand minimal volume and hard material. For instance, the only detail one can see on the façade comes from the construction system — from the outline of each concrete panel. The residence projects an image of permanence instead of a provisional architecture, which covers most of the urban fabric of Los Angeles.”
[Street facade, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
By creating buildings like the Stockman Residence, Kurath set up a new precedent in the neighborhood. The status quo of paste-on façades is now challenged by a more progressive architecture. Architects have a social responsibility to shape a greater urban fabric through strategic moves that ripple across the city. This task is confronted with much opposition by city leaders and representatives, and like Kurath says: “The problem has to do with the fact that many people don’t think of what architects do. In general, architects attempt to create “art”, and think beyond what can be done to make the architecture progress by integrating the latest material and technology. Architects have the responsibility not only to explore innovative materials and technologies, but also to fight with the city authorities in order to create different form, identity, lifestyle that better responds to the need of our era. This kind of small intervention, not only constitutes a means to architecturally innovate at the scale of the house, but also function as a planning tool to re-imagine the city one unit at a time.” For instance, after the Stockman Residence was completed, several other “contemporary houses” appeared along the same street, creating a chain reaction in the entire neighborhood. The Stockman Residence represents a new residential urban model that explores the idea of how a dwelling can be maximized on a compact parcel.
[House of sand, Lee Mundwiler Architects, Image by Maxime Moreau]
[235 Ocean Park, Michael W. Folonis Architect, Image by Maxime Moreau]
By pushing the exterior walls and therefore the interior spaces toward the public space, a void quickly appears in the middle of the construction. This break leads the architect to open up the center of the structure in order to create a hidden courtyard, which Kurath described as: “A silent world where in the inhabitants can benefit of privacy and tranquility while living in an urban environment.” Consequently, the entire program is organized around the courtyard in three distinct structures forming an “L shape house”.
[Interior courtyard, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
Placed again the street and filling the entire width of the property, the first structure consists of a living room and an informal guest room concealed behind a flexible partition.
[Living room, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
The bedrooms are kept in a traditional layout through their placement on the second floor.
[Master bedroom, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
Like the Reitz Residence, the spatial logic of the Stockman Residence follows the same concept of an open space where there is no limit between the diverse inner activities. “This notion of openness has to do with the manner in which the house is built. I always create the shell first, place the structure in and after, I go inside to define the space. The use of hard materials like concrete and steel not only ground the buildings in the city, but also contribute to realize large open space, which would be more difficult to achieve in wood.” says Kurath
The second block, on which a three car garage is placed, is located at the opposite end of the property to close the rear side of the lot and shields the occupants from the direct views of the tall apartments across the alley.
[Garage view form the alley, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
[Garage view form living room, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
The void generated between the two constructions is partially filled on the east side by a third structure, which contains an open kitchen on the ground level and an office/playroom on the second floor. This block finally seals the residence from the public domain while binding the different structures together.
[Kitchen, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
[Office / Playroom, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
The kitchen – playroom volume is placed towards the public green space in order to create a private courtyard on the west side where the building density is the lowest, and to open up the entire façades around it. By doing so, the entire house is filled with natural light without giving up privacy.
Meanwhile, the location of the third volume emerged as an effort to connect the inner space with its environment and to create a realistic dialogue with the city. The architect precisely cut out the side facade in front of the trees area in order to insert a translucent glass tower (vertical circulation) and bring natural light to each level. On the other hand, the trees are used as a partition between the public and private domain emphasizing this sense of intimacy. From the inside, the leaves generate an abstract and evolving background for the occupants.
[Cut out, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
[Stair tower with channel glass, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
Finally, the location of the lot, the traffic, the green space in the city and the architectural surroundings has become important contextual sources that not only determine the form and the spatial organization of the house, but also the way we approach it. Walking through the front gate, which continues along the perimeter of the property, the visitor enters into what appears to be the front yard and expects to see a front door. But, with no apparent front door, the visitor is instead directed towards a dark and narrow pathway along the side of the property.
[Front yard, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
This pathway is set lower than the park level and further protected by the trees overhanging the outer gates. This architectural setup reinforces the idea that the function of the building is to shield the occupants from the noise and activity of urban life. At the end, the main entrance is placed in the middle of the side elevation (right in front of the trees area), so when one crosses the opaque black entry door and enters inside the space, the first thing he sees is a light-filled open space with a 2-storey height courtyard in the background.
[Trees area, side yard and main entrance in background, Image by Roger Kurath, Architect]
The form, the configuration of interior spaces, and the spatial progression make the Stockman Residence fully dependant of its context and as Kurath states: “The house would have got a completely different form if its context was changed. For example, if the park did not exist, I would never have designed the entrance and vertical circulation the way it is right now. Contrary to what most developers are doing, I don’t believe one can put this building somewhere else.”