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Manhattan Beach Residence

Rigor and Precision beside the Ocean

Olson Kundig

Manhattan Beach Residence
By Michael Webb -

In Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles, rows of mid-century white stucco houses cascade down a slope to the ocean and a sandy surfing beach. Into this densely packed neighborhood, Tom Kundig and his colleague Edward Lalonde have inserted a sharp-edged box of glass and black steel that emerges from blank side walls of concrete block. It occupies the sites of three cottages that stepped down a steep walkway and, though the new, 493-sq. m house is radically different from its understated neighbors, it is a brilliant response to the corner site and the benign climate.

The Seattle-based practice Olson Kundig (formerly Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects) has grown exponentially over the past two decades and Kundig has won a devoted following for the precise geometry and tough materiality of his houses. In their response to nature, they recall Richard Neutra’s goal of creating a “machine in the garden” playing orthogonal buildings off organic plantings, enhancing both by contrast. Here, the setback from the walkway is landscaped and creeper is veiling the side wall. The ocean, a block away, is a constant presence.

The owners are design professionals and dedicated modernists. A magazine story on a Kundig house convinced them they had found the right architect for their site. They explored his work and chose, as models, houses that used humble materials in an expressive way. For them, ocean views, openness and privacy were priorities, which dovetailed with Kundig’s passion for space and natural light. The height of buildings near the California coastline is rigorously controlled but this is averaged out on a sloping site, allowing the architects to create an ascending tier of rooms on four levels.
The three stories at the front rise to 11 m, stepping up a couple of meters to the rear.

As the design evolved through sketches, models and a lively dialogue between clients and architects, Kundig drew on...

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