///////Project Info

///////J,P:A Index


CLIENT: Witheld

SITE: Freeway-adjacent hillside lot

PROGRAM: Live/work space

SIZE: 1,200 ft2

COST: Witheld


NOTES: Wood framing on WF and TS steel frame, cast-in-place concrete basement and foundations

PROJECT TEXT: The freeway system makes LA possible, by enabling LA’s signature suburbanization, but at the same time it also makes LA impossible to appreciate by any but native Angelenos. This iconic transportation network smoothly connects distant neighborhoods, but in the process violently divides adjacent ones. Concerned only with its own efficiency, the system remains aloof from the topography through and over which it hurtles. The onramps and offramps that provide the physical links are more importantly zones of mental transition—between the surface street world of distance and direction, and a freeway hyperspace that knows only time. This transition takes up space, and as it adjusts the geometry of the street grid to the flowing lines of the freeway it captures oddly shaped parcels, orphaned from the grid by shape or size and mostly unusable for building. These have become famous in urban parlance as “terrain vague.”

The oldest freeway in the Western United States is the Arroyo Seco Parkway, opened in 1940. It meanders through the hills between Pasadena and Los Angeles, following its namesake seasonal river. When it reaches the confluence with the channelized LA river, the Parkway charts a more direct route, carving tunnels and leaping across ravines on a beeline for downtown. Because the Arroyo Seco Parkway was laid out when freeway speeds were lower, the roadway fits its winding terrain tightly and the transition zone is compressed to a mere turning radius. The hairpin onramps and offramps recall a time when the street grid tied directly into the lanes of the freeway and the terrain at the margins was less vague.

This project continues J,P:A’s long-term investigation of the vertical diatomic organization: base and superstructure, connected yet independently serving their formal and contextual responsibilities. The base obviously anchors the structure to the ground, providing stability and a level foundation on the steep hillside. Since its affiliation is with the earth, it is low and massive and simple, burrowing in below the surface and spreading retaining wall “roots” out to tie it into the hillside and organize the project’s territory. The base is developed in a matter-of-fact, infrastructural spirit suggested by the project’s location immediately adjacent to the freeway system.

The superstructure floats above the base, rotated to address the view, taking advantage of the freedom afforded by the base’s solid normalizing stance to orient itself to more distant interests—the views and solar exposure. If the base is heavy and earth-borne, the superstructure is light and belongs to the sky, sporting tunable appurtenances that frame the view, shade the interior from the sun and provide access to the layered spaces and program. If the base is simple, the superstructure is functionally and formally complex, with an elaborate interior mechanical program deck, articulated structure, and textured skin.