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Remodelling Mar Vista.

Dating from 1947, Gregory Ain's Mar Vista housing was an innovative, quintessentially Californian synthesis of modular planning, prefabricated components and lush landscaping. In an elegant, contemporary interpretation that enhances the material and spatial qualities of the original, one house has been recently remodelled by the young practice of Daly Genik.

Gregory Ain is one of those Southern Californian architects about whom more should be said. In her 1984 study of The Second Generation - Ain, Julius Ralph Davidson, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Raphael Soriano - Esther McCoy devotes some 60 pages to him and the illustrations show crisp, neat, Modernist houses which immediately recall Schindler and Neutra for whom he worked. It is this singularity of vision which makes Ain's Mar Vista housing all the more interesting. Originally planned as a subscribers' community for B. M. Edelman's Advance Development Company in 1947 (when Ain was 38), it incorporated a hundred houses on a 60 acre site close to Venice Boulevard between Culver City and Venice Beach. In the end only 52 were built: broad-fronted, flat-roofed houses of 1050sq ft (94.5 sq m), irregularly spaced and with rotated plans, to introduce variety and privacy. But the uniformity of the design and the regularity of the features (resulting from the modular, prefabricated nature of the construction and fitting-out), gives the neighbourhood an immediately discernible coherence and elegance. This is enhanced by the bold-leafed, sub-tropical landscaping of Garret Eckbo; fig trees line the kerb and provide a counterpoint to the hard geometries of the buildings and palms, banana trees, flax and climbing philodendrons, hide them in their shade. It is a very special place.

Against this background, the young, Santa Monica-based practice of Kevin Daly and Chris Genik has recently remodelled 3556 Meier Street, one of Ain's 52 houses at Mar Vista. The house sits on the north side of the street, enveloped by lush foliage and dark beneath its deeply projecting roof. It is a private yet curiously open building. Clerestory windows beside the recessed door allow the visitor views right through the building to the sun-lit garden beyond. This was Ain's and, indeed, Soriano's approach: clear-span interiors subdivided by sliding partitions and prefabricated wall units, exploiting spatial fluidity learned from Schindler and Neutra.

Daly Genik's clients are not newcomers to Mar Vista. They had lived in the house for 12 years, but a growing library and collection of carpets, rugs and batiks were demanding more space. The solution proposed by Daly Genik was what Ain might have done - to pull back the sliding partitions and then project them out into the garden and by so doing, drawing the garden into the house. The openness is retained and even enhanced, and the through vistas are not lost.

The solution is not only reminiscent of Ain, but also of Charles and Ray Eames. For onto the back of the house, Daly Genik have melded a lightweight double-height living space, lined with thin steel bookshelves and flooded with light. It is the Eames House re-thought and reworked, a contemporary essay in tectonics and materials. Four masonry walls support a large steel ring-beam, but pull back from each other at the corners, forcing the steel rectangle to oversail and define, from above, the limits of the space. From this ring-beam hangs a skirt or valance of polycarbonate sheeting, corrugated and translucent, and sliding doors which withdraw to dissolve the two outer corners. This new space encroaches upon the garden but, as at the Eames house, the garden becomes part of the house. Here no eucalyptus trees serve to provide the final delineator, but instead a shallow pond (the suggestion of Garret Eckbo), located centrally against the back wall.

The sense of materiality about the new work is strongly reminiscent of the Eameses and it was only by contracting the job through the office (as Charles and Ray Eames did with their own house), that Daly Genik managed to bring the building in within budget. Daly Genik do not deny the Eameses' influence and admire their subversion of technology. This can be seen in the polycarbonate valance, for example, which is applied in double sheets and screwed, almost crudely, to the supporting pipe columns with self-tapping screws. An awareness of the polycarbonate sheeting is unavoidable; its light infuses the whole space and when it is too bright, a solar sensor activates internal blinds which drop down from the plywood-sheeted ceiling to cover its fractal glow.

Inside the house, the transition from old to new, from Ain to Daly Genik, is equally gentle. Deep, sliding walls pull out not only to enclose the new space, but to expose the rugs and batiks which are pinned to their padded surfaces. When returned, the precious hangings are safely encased within the thickness of the structure, and the space flows once more. The concrete floor of the old house has been ground down and polished, and only a colour change to black concrete suggests where the old building once ended and the new one begins. In the dining room, to one side, a patch of black concrete against the end wall provides a memory of the fireplace now removed. To Daly Genik, architecture is clearly about making, about how things go together, about tectonics and about the unexpected.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Jackson, Neil
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Nov 1, 1997
Words:877
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