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Hill House

Living with the Land

Donaldson + Partners

Hill House
By Charles Dupont -
Duravit, Egger, Schüco have participated in the project

In the U.S., mega-mansions strive to impress and often overwhelm their neighbors. In contrast, a 1,765-sq. m house that Robin Donaldson recently completed is almost invisible from the street. It is located on a gently sloping estate in Montecito, a coastal settlement of great natural beauty, just east of Santa Barbara, California. From the entry gate, a shallow dome, planted with drought-resistant succulents, conceals much of the structure and becomes an extension of the landscaping. Richard Neutra designed white cubes that contrasted with lush plantings, describing them as “machines in the garden”. Here, there is a synergy between the built and natural forms, until you come close and see how the dome is carved away to create sensuously curved sunken patios. 

From the air, this might be mistaken for an alien spaceship that was abandoned and has become overgrown, or a massive work of earth art that is an interplay of mass and void. It also evokes a smooth rock outcrop penetrated by caves. Is it fabricated or found? In reality, it is the product of a lively creative imagination, the latest software and a long, meticulous process of construction. “Unique” is a much overworked word, but it is the only one that adequately describes this architectural feat.

The couple who commissioned Donaldson are both artists and declared that they wanted a house of the 21st century, tailored to the site, in which to suit their personal needs, display their collection and host events. Some might consider such a large, steel-framed concrete dwelling to be environmentally unfriendly but the opposite is true. Most new houses are short-lived and need to be demolished and replaced within a few generations, or expensively restored. This resilient structure should resist earthquakes, wildfires and floods, and long outlast its contemporaries. Rainfall is stored in an underground cistern, the plantings are drought-resistant and an...

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