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SITE: Ridgeline clearing in the middle of multi-acre property, surrounded on all sides by scrub oak

PROGRAM: Single-family residence; open plan served by vertically divided PRO/dek system, supplying program for two bedrooms, living area, kitchen, bath, and home entertainment

SIZE: 2,300 sq. ft.

COST: $750,000

COMPLETION: Fall 2004 (design)

NOTES: Weathering steel structural frame, metal decking, and concrete slab floor and roof construction, totally adhered EPDM single-ply membrane roof, cast-in-place concrete foundation piers on spread footings, fiberglass decking at entry ramp and rear deck, full-height triple-glazed G+U sliding door system with liquid crystal privacy measures

PROJECT TEXT: This project for a small residence in Napa Valley is an homage to Mies’s Farnsworth House. It exhibits a particular American version of respect, though: this project, which we call F2, soups up, or hot-rods, the Farnsworth House. (For a full description of “souping up” see our essay “Take That,” page XX.) The client for the present design is a real estate developer and entrepreneur currently working with J,P:A on several projects in San Francisco. This project will provide her with a weekend getaway on twenty-two secluded acres; most of the site is covered with grasses and Manzanita with an almost continuous ring of scrub oak providing privacy from adjoining parcels. The house is located on a ridgeline in the middle of the acreage and enjoys impressive views in almost all directions. Parking is provided at the edge of the property, out of site amid the oaks, and a long ascending footpath leads to the house over the brow of the ridgeline. PRO/dek units provide the accommodations of a two-bedroom, two-bath house, in varied configurations, within the prismatic volume defined by the dimensions of the original Farnsworth House. This design for a souped up Farnsworth house elaborates or extends the logic of the iconic features of the original. These include the particular structural strategy employed by Mies to make the house “hover” over the prairie, the interior arrangement of partitions that emphasizes the “freedom” of the space, and the entry sequence and siting of the project. Additionally, this souped version attempts to resolve some of the livability issues that alienated Ms. Farnsworth, such as those related to privacy and flexibility.

The ideality of the original was its greatest attraction but led to its chief problems. The souping-up process begins with a disciplined relaxation of this ideality, stepping back from the aporetic dead end to which it had driven the original design in order to follow its logic to another, potentially more productive outcome. In some cases this results in a more literal embodiment of the original intentions; the use of the diagonal in the souped-up version, for example, permits a truly hovering cantilever that eliminates the topological dilemma presented by the columns and their relation to the ground plane. Similarly, the reconfigurability of the advanced Mark II version of the PRO/dek system permits the space an actual rather than metaphoric freedom.

F2 is intended to be exemplary of the souping-up process; the viewer is invited to consider every tectonic condition, domestic arrangement, or spatial affect of the project as an explicit performance related comment on the corresponding element from the Farnsworth House. Thus, for example, the ramp and its detailing soup up Mies’s famous floating platform entry sequence, criticizing the original’s compromised ideality and offering a practical and more formally consistent alternative. The way F2 meets the ground, its overt structure, the detailing of its roof, its internal planning, furniture and fixtures, even the mundane service elements that Mies had to paint black in hopes of rendering them invisible—the fireplace chimney, the soil stacks and drains—have been addressed.