Oculus Here, Oculus There

Breuer-inspired Los Angeles house turns old split-level conventions upside down

Architecture West
The building steps out in a manner that mimics a nearby hillside and has a back-yard oculus window oriented toward the slope. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)
The building steps out in a manner that mimics a nearby hillside and has a back-yard oculus window oriented toward the slope. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)

The Los Angeles Design Group (LADG) recently completed work on their Armstrong Residence, a 1,894-square-foot renovation of an existing, split-level single family house in Los Angeles’s Silverlake neighborhood.

The “upside down house” is organized with a living room at the top and has bedrooms and a study located below. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)

The house’s massing is directly inspired by Marcel Breuer’s former Whitney Museum in New York City, except that instead of jutting out over a busy Manhattan street, the Armstrong House instead steps out along its back facade, mimicking the slope of a gentle hill located behind the house.



The building is clad in charred and natural-finish cedar wood planks. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)

Along the street front, an inset-bay window—Breuer’s streetside eye juts out from the structure—interrupts the otherwise monolithic, charred cedar wood exterior. The front window is contained within an overhanging car port and its panes are torqued to align perpendicularly with the nearby Silverlake Reservoir. On the back side of the house, a projecting oculus is similarly torqued and arranged here, in parallel with the slope. Both windows are an attempt, according to the LADG principals Andrew Holder and Claus Benjamin Freyinger, to “interiorize” exterior landscape features as elements of interior scenography. Along areas where the exterior envelope is broken, like along the lids of the oculus or the planes of a stepped-back, third-floor facade, the wood siding shifts to a natural finish.

Los Angeles Design Group has designed a charred cedar wood-clad house in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood inspired by Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)

The house is designed as an “upside down house,” organized with a large, clear-span living room at the top floor with two levels containing two bedrooms, bathrooms, a study, and a laundry room located below. The new top floor acts like a hat over the existing spaces. The living room organization, much like the original split-level design, maximizes the house’s viewshed toward the reservoir. The space is organized around its views, with a built-in kitchen assembly on one short end of the rectangular great room, and a relaxed seating area located opposite.

Interior windows are torqued in order to align with picturesque landscape views. (Courtesy Nathan Riley)

The areas between these spaces are animated through the presence of a pair of operable window-walls that open onto a generous exterior terrace. The indoor-outdoor living room—its front wall pulled back from the facade and clad in naturally-finished cedar—looks out over the surrounding hillsides and reservoir.

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