Phoenix House

House News

Anthony Vizzari

The aptly named Phoenix House—its prior Henry Hill–designed iteration burned to the ground in 2008—rises from the ashes with a meticulously executed splendor. Evoking the “rich, optimistic” atmosphere of midcentury Bay Area buildings while integrating contemporary construction techniques like CNC milling, the 3,700-square-foot house located in Berkeley, California, fittingly sits on its old foundation while embracing an entirely new design.

Light, and the client’s relationship to it, figures prominently in the design: The original owners were fabricators of lighting fixtures for Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, among other architects and artisans. To preserve this artistic lineage, the client, who is the grandchild of the original owners, hired the San Francisco–based design-build-company-turned-architectural firm Anderson Anderson. This choice was motivated in part by the fact that the firm’s offices are located next door to the original South Market workshop of the client’s grandparents, but also because over the span of their 31-year career, Anderson Anderson’s principals Mark and Peter Anderson have overseen and developed construction techniques in Asia, Europe, and the United States. The result is a home that materially encapsulates its heritage in an exquisitely realized form.

Anderson Anderson uses contemporary technology to pay homage to midcentury design. A material palette of cedar, Douglas Fir, concrete, and copper lends warmth to its often foggy Berkeley, California location.
 

The firm first undertook a study of natural lighting conditions on the existing plot. Sited facing west near the eastern shoreline of the San Francisco Bay, the house is frequently bathed in fog. Mark Anderson assembled a palette of wood and concrete finishes to best welcome and enhance the natural lighting conditions without allowing the house to blend into the fog. The exterior is clad in weathering cedar, which will turn to silvery gray over time. Inside, small touches like the kitchen-mounted spun copper fixtures with glass pieces reference the house’s former owners, while the oiled interior Douglas Fir panels preserve the warm tones of the wood and, according to Mark Anderson, create “a lantern-like feeling of warmth.” Raw concrete retains the heat of the early eastern light, while cedar slats on top of the roof provide shading.

 

Also notable is the use of new design and building technologies, and the corresponding specificity with which architects can now craft details that would have previously been left up to the carpenter. “In the past, architects would have submitted three or four pages of drawings of global details,” Mark Anderson explained. “Now with REVIT, it is the architect that builds everything in the digital model. We can make the windows ourselves and integrate them with the framing, which would have been unaffordable prior to digital technology.” This degree of precision not only allows for tighter design, but also lowers overall construction costs.

Since most of the family’s collection of sculptures and paintings was lost in the fire, the new design was created as a highly livable artwork unto itself. The Phoenix House features radiant floor heating, cork floors in the bathroom, and operable windows that look out into a central courtyard. At night, the oiled trim, Corian countertops, and steel bookshelf reflect the interior light back out through the array of generous rectilinear windows. The house is like a giant wooden lantern glowing in the fog.

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