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A four-story box that doesn't feel boxy at all.

A four-story box that doesn't feel boxy at all

Turn the steep site into an asset--that was architect James Shay's intention when he built his house on a 30| slope in San Francisco. A dramatic view of the downtown skyline and an address on a beautiful treelined street made Shay resolve to overcome problems posed by the site.

He itemized various drawbacks--poor soil for foundations, excessive ground water, proximity to an earthquake fault. He then convinced the lot owner to consider the high estimated cost for complex foundation work and reduce the asking price by that amount. The strategy worked.

With the help of structural engineers, he designed the house to rest on 15 piers sunk 30 feet deep and on a reinforced concrete perimeter foundation. A PVC-pipe drainage system diverts water.

Height limitations and the steepness of the slope determined the house's shape: a four-story box measuring 25 feet wide, 47 feet long, 25 feet high at the street entrance on the west, and 49 feet high from the bottom of the slope on the east.

Inside, the house doesn't feel boxy at all. By using balconies and a bridge, Shay brought the vertical quality of the site indoors, opening up a variety of views between the top three levels and into the trees. Decks on top and bottom floors provide outdoor living space.

Three levels are visible from just inside the front door--the master bedroom behind a casement window straight ahead, the studio downstairs, the living-dining area upstairs.

Up top, an elegantly detailed diagonal bridge connects the living-dining area to the kitchen. From the kitchen, the view cuts through the house to towering redwood trees beyond. On this floor, only a guest room and bath are fully enclosed.

A two-story window bay links the two middle floors with a single light-filled space; a balcony in the master bedroom overlooks part of the studio below. The bay also functions as a canopy that partially covers a deck and spa directly below on the bottom level. The deck cantilevers over the steepest part of the site on a V-shaped steel frame.

Photo: Flying bridge on top floor overlooks stairwell, master bedroom's interior window; it runs from kitchen to living-dining area

Photo: Crisp geometry hints at contemporary interior. Horizontal bars around entry and garage door will support vines

Photo: Two-story glass bay acts as a light tower for master bedroom and studio floors; its roof forms high deck off living room

Photo: Entry landing looks into three of the four floors: studio below, bedroom ahead, living room above

Photo: Studio bay seems to float in the trees. It rises two floors to share daylight with master bedroom on level above

Photo: Compact house fits into steep slope. Most of rooms face view
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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