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Hot house flower.

In the architectural hot-house of Los Angeles, the private house still commands imagination, providing a vehicle of expression for the latest generation of architects ready and able to mine the richly eclectic architectural traditions established by earlier emigres to Southern California.

Mark Mack arrived in Los Angeles from Austria via San Francisco. He hit the 'motopian culture' of California in 1978; equipped with an Austrian architectural education and an affinity for the work of Adolf Loos. California, with its benign climate, marvellously varied landscape and diverse population supplied other influences. In the foreword to Diane Ghirado's book about Mack, Kurt Foster wrote: 'Inspired less by formal language than by a particular attitude toward the dynamic interaction of building, materials and landscape, Mack's imaginative projects responded to the simplicity and scale of houses by Bernard Maybeck and Ernest Coxhead'(1)

His imagination was also affected by the Modernist lyricism of works by earlier Austrians, Neutra and Schindler, and by the grace of the traditional timber architecture known as the First Bay Style.

With his former partner, Andrew Batey, Mack established a practice in San Francisco. They built among the vineyards of the Napa Valley a series of villas that were drawn from the Mediterranean archetype and reworked into structures described by their authors as neo-primitive. This envisaged architecture as a craft, an eminently physical activity whose power derives from elementary forms. It also encapsulated the ancient ideal of unity, of the materials and forms of buildings within a specific landscape.

Mack's work has greatly matured over the past decade, Kenneth Frampton observed with some asperity that, living behind 'the Neo-Primitive viricultural myth after his move to Southern California', Mack still retains a regionalist tone.(2) He is able to do this because his approach, at least in these private architectural essays, allows him to respond to particular sites and clients without dogma, keeping hold of the archetype that the situation suggests. The eclecticism is at a profound level, distinct from the film set borrowings of the Post-Modernists and in the tradition of architects such as lrving Gill who adapted the forms of the pueblo to Modernist expression. Once in Los Angeles, Mack looked south for inspiration: to the southerly memory of adobe forms as evinced by Gill and to the contrapuntal planes of astonishing colour by Louis Barragan, evoking the poetry of arid landscapes.

The Summers House in suburban Santa Monica was designed for a musician and his family. Whether the recent riots in Los Angeles has affected the district's traditional openness; or whether the family is naturally inclined to be private, the clients wanted privacy above all. The standard plan of the Los Angeles bungalow, which moves back from the street to front yard, house and back yard, was overturned. In its place, Mack set the main house at the back of the long narrow site; and put a two-storey gatehouse, with guest rooms and a music room, at the front; the two being separated by an exotically planted garden with trellised path and (obligatory in LA) a swimming pool. Terraces and windows are angled to maintain privacy.

In each of the buildings, a series of volumes look into one another in the manner of a complex, early south-western pueblo. In the centre of the main house, a basement, two floors and a roof terrace are piled up to form the highest part of the house. Around this are generated a series of spaces, outdoor rooms, terraces and patios that are connected by exterior staircases. The abstraction and the manner in which solid forms are massed, cut and stacked recall Gill's pueblo evocations. Contrapuntal planes of sunwashed colours, soft against brilliance of grass and flowers, evoke southerly latitudes -- and Barragan's abstract deployment of desert colours.

Internally, movable panels and doorways allow the house to be opened and closed as required. The use of colour outside is repeated internally with walls in soft colours and stained fittings.

By dividing the house and by the careful massing, Mack has managed to make the building look more modest than it really is -- apparently reconciling neighbours to its presence.



(1)Ghirado, Diane Mark Mack -- A California Architect, Wasmuth, Berlin, 1994.

(2)Frampton, Kenneth 'America Incognita: An Anthology' in Casabella, December 1993.
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Title Annotation:the Summers house in Santa Monica, California
Author:McGuire, Penny
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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