Gail’s Elsewhere Nest
Design Development - Sheet PD - 1 with notations
link to download pdf file of Sheet PD 1 • link to larger view of Sheet PD 1
This page describes Design Development concepts as illustrated on Sheet PD 1. There will be three other drawing sheets in this stage of development. PD 1 illustrates the front elevation of the existing house as it is to be modified and the plan at the level of the Nest [to be built on the existing Bedroom and carport roof]. PD 2 will show the side view (looking NE) and the floor plan at the first floor level. PD 3 will show sections, Lift details from Bedroom to Nest and other construction details. PD 4 will show all site preparation work including water capture and storage. Energy systems upgrades will be described on Sheet PD 5.
The concept of Gail’s Nest is now facing the serious prospect of building [link]. As the Design Development process continues, the idea will undergo progressive refinement. Therefore, it is important to make the idea-of-it as clear as possible so that, in the process of being made build-able, it is not compromised. This is a small work. For its actual size (of enclosed space) it will be expensive. For the total new functionality it will provide, it will not be expensive. This work, to be properly rendered, has to be built with great precision. As organic, at home in the woods and a deliberate exemplar of the Bay Area Style that it is, the Nest has aspects (the dome, elevator and solar system) requiring sophisticated technology and innovation. The integration of these “modern” elements with a Mendocino [link] “cabin” is mission critical to the theme [link] of the work.
Gail’s Nest, besides supporting an important function in support of our life-work style, is an “art piece” that pays homage to, and has a little fun with, the many architectural idioms and traditions which combine to make what is commonly referred to as the “Bay Area Style.” Some of these I have mentioned elsewhere [link]. In the comments below, I will make specific note of references the Nest makes to individual works, the ideas they represent and their fit with this project.
Buildings, of recent, have become a commodity, and architecture, an exercise of stars making meaningless gestures - icons of a society without grounding in physical reality. This is understandable given all the many choices so suddenly released upon the earth. There remain, however, places to remind us of where we came from and where we might go if we choose to remember [link]. It is important to build many more such places for they remind us of who we are and what we can become. The residence is the most challenging of architectural works. A living-workplace even more so. These make INTIMATE architecture. The ACT of building is a basic human gesture. Over the last 50 years, both structure and the art of building have been progressively divorced from the reality of the interior space of our buildings and our experience of them. This project is a deliberate exercise in INTEGRATION. It runs counter to what has become an abnormal norm. The book that may come of it has this purpose. The place where the book - and other works - is to be written has the same purpose.

The basic elements of the Nest are revealed, by this elevation, as long as two aspects of the site are kept in mind, First, the site slopes away from the existing house across the entire south west-to-east axis. Only the top of the Nest dome will be viable, as example, from the street as it will be screed by the carport roof trellis. The second aspect to keep in mind is that the site is heavily forested with second growth redwoods that are approximately 100 years old (since the site was last clear cut). In addition, the Edwards who owned the property for over 25 years did extensive pruning and landscaping to create the basic setting of the existing house. The entire (nearly on acre) site is filled with rhododendrons. It is important to revisit the photos of the Elsewhere property [link]. These aspects of the site totally set the opportunity for prospect and refuge that the Nest (and other future additions) is designed to augment.

Given that, the first thing to see is the STANCE that the Nest takes. Posture is important. This work stands tall and is PRESENT. It is not arrogant nor does it attract attention to itself - it is expressive of its mission. It is a place to experience work in harmony with the Mendocino landscape - an Ecotopian harmony. The essence of this place is how the world is from this work-perch. What do you see - and not? What do you hear when the flower pedals are open? How do the earth and trees smell on a warm summer afternoon? How is the light filtered first by the redwoods and then by the structure itself?


Gail’s early work was the education of young children. The geometry and colors of the the two light towers are deliberate references to Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained glass window in the Coonley playhouse. He returned to this theme with the Midway Gardens project in Chicago almost a decade later. Both connote exuberance, festivity and playfulness. In this case, there being two towers, one in view from the desk and one above, an interesting juxtaposition is created. The tower above the dome - think of it as a lantern - will be a major source of ambient light for the Nest at night.

The horizontal line of the cantilevered steel and mesh screen divides the glass section of the dome into two distinct parts. The top part is to read like a lamp, a lantern - it is a creature of light, colored and translucent, Beneath the screen, is seamless transparent curved glass. The steel frames of the upper portion, which also hold the fixed and operable glass sections, run behind the clear glass below. This difference between the upper and lower portions of the glass is not only in response to the light environment - they deeply reflect the function of the space. Of the three dome sections, the top is Aladdin’s Lamp. The center section is an unobstructed view of the world, the bottom is the earth rising in the form of a redwood tree.

The Nest is surrounded by redwood trees. It, itself, is a tree house with a massive redwood base. The tree pattern is seen around the Nest - above it, is sky. The pattern above is to be found in the colored obscure glazing - created by layer on layer of materials - and its shape. All together, one is placed in NATURE.


The first deck off of the Nest is directly over the Bedroom below - it reflects its foot print including closet and hallway entry . The ladder descends to the deck alcove below off the Bathroom and entering the kitchen. The trunk of the Nest is centered on the corner of the Bedroom with the stanchions embedded in the two outside Bedroom walls. Other than the descending curve of the stanchions, the walls will be wood framed French Doors and windows. [see PD 2]. Thus, there is a very intimate relationship between the Nest and the room below.

The existing house is extraordinarily well positioned on the site. The couple we purchased it from spent more than 20 years fitting the house to the landscape. The weak spot is the SW corner of the house. The house just seems to end here with no punctuation. The Bedroom is the only dark room in the house - all the other rooms each get light at three different times of the day. The house is surrounded by deck whose square footage exceeds that of the interior. The side deck, which is a wonderful sitting area [link], is not well connected to the rest of the house.

The Nest will “anchor” this end of the house and it will cantilever out over the side deck. All will be much more “complete” with this new arrangement. With the two deck above, free of nibbling deer, Elsewhere becomes more ship-like: the structure can be employed form all sides including being “on” and “under” it [link]. This combines to make a variety of spaces, indoors, outdoors with transition areas, that orient to all points of the compass. Protected urban patios in a forest landscape.


The sliding glass doors are curved and are offset from the line of the basic dome. This resolves what otherwise would be both awkward geometry and impossible to function door mechanisms. This requires a section of flat glass in the cantilevered steel and mesh screen overhead from the doors back to the head of the dome. The Lift platform is level with the floor at the built-in workstation and steps down to the deck level which makes up one quadrant of the Nest. The Lift can stop at this level to provide wheel chair access.

The raised light-tube provides early morning to late afternoon light to the bedroom below. A light weight steel railing (not shown on the elevations) surrounds the deck areas. A new trellis facia closes off the outer edge of the existing roof line and extends the carport front to create an Entry Court. The existing facia presents a weak line and an unpleasant slope. The new 2x2 trellis will level the line, create depth at the top and bottom, and provides an arbor for crawling plants. The detailing derives from three sources: Victorian, Wright and Maybeck - all progenitors of the Bay Area style.

Alternate sections of the dome open like pedals of a flower. The dome is a mixed metaphor: a flower - an organic thing; and, a Tiffany lamp - a human made thing. When the pedals are open the trunk of the structure will act like a chimney and draw air upward from below. Depending on the placement of the lift (open or closed), the weather, sun position and the window below, a variety of air flows and temperatures can be achieved reinforcing the nature-human symbiosis theme of the work.


There are three elements to talk about with this view, The second deck, the solar collector and the Entry Court Yard. The deck immediately off the Nest will get mid morning and early afternoon light. As the day progresses, it become shaded by trees and by the Nest structure itself. It will be a nice intimate sitting area on a warm summer afternoon. The second deck will get more exposure to direct sunlight and the solar collector even more. This is a good Summer sun bathing area and a warm sitting area in winter. The two decks, together, are large enough for a modest size reception. This part of the house is not primarily for entertainment, yet, it will serve well for wine and conversation - it is a place for serious entertainment.

The solar collector is small - 100 square feet. Its effectiveness will be augmented by opening reflection panels. Because of tree shading, there are few hours of uninterrupted sunlight. By adjusting the reflection panels, highly focused light can be brought to the reflector for most of the day. The panels will be operated by computer and sensors. Over time, the maximum capture algorithms will be “learned.” Each of the four panels will configure independently creating a flower-like response to the changing sun and cloud pattern.

There is no existing distinct entry to the house. This is corrected by the trellis structure, which creates an Entry courtyard; and, also, the sliding doors enclosing the porch. The trellis integrates the upper Nest level and the Entry. The extended wall separates the Entry Court from the door to the front decks thereby creating two areas.


The interface of the Nest to the Deck is critical. Walking “out” onto the deck has to be a natural extension of the Nest’s interior. There are multiple nuances of how prospect and refuge is expressed within these various areas. The deck is a flat plane, and open, and is bound by the dome on one side and the linear shape of the house on the other. It looks down into essentially four different landscapes and “out” onto two different vistas. Both the Nest and the roof deck have a platform sense and will feel like they are floating in air over the site. Exploiting this sense is mission critical to the function of the Nest. Art expresses a viewpoint, a sense of reality [link]. Architecture presents a view of a specific reality and an armature that facilitates a way of engaging with it [link].

On the horizontal plane, the ring of redwoods sets the first layer of boundaries which give way to a near infinite view. As the sun passes, the Deck will have alternating periods of shade and and bright sunlight. The complete nature of this lighting changes about every two hours. This plays out in different ways in the different seasons. Because of its exposure, The deck outside the Nest will be one of the warmest places on the property and this is will a plus in the cooler months of the year.

Inside the Nest the viewpoint is more focused and “controlled.” The view is long range and horizontal through a band of continuous, uninterrupted glazing, framed by the desktop and the cantilevered screen. This is a personal workplace and environment for a rare, serious, intimate dialog. Acoustically, the nest when closed will be silent. The outside sounds of nature are let in by opening the sliding doors and roof pedals.


The adjacent house is separated from the nest by a 10 food (from floor line) drop in elevation and dense foliage. The sight lines are indicated on the drawings yet these will be misinterpreted if the barrier of trees are not taken into account. The horizontal view line from a sitting position, at the desk, in the Nest looks over the top of the adjacent house. All that you will see is layers of redwoods and, ultimately, the horizon and the sea.

The return view can “see” only above sitting head height and only to the extent that the structure can be seen at all through the landscape. The Nest, from the house, will appear as a sparkling lantern poking in and out of the trees. The face of the dome is 45 feet from the side of the house; the cantilevered screen - which will be the most dominate element as viewed from the house (being horizontal), is a little over 41 feet away.

Therefore the interference of these two structures - one to another - is minimal. This is a forest landscape, however, the lots are relatively small. The Elsewhere property is two lots and they make up less than an acre. Structures on adjacent properties should not impose on one another. This is seems to be a forgotten concept in modern development. This does not mean that they cannot be close to one another - it just means that what is “my” structure is “their” background to someone else. These factors should always be considered. It is embarrassing to have to note this but present design ethics compel it.


As noted above, the existing house does not have a formal Entry. There exists a nook between the Carport and the house with step up to a door that leads directly into the Living Room. This is poor Pattern Language [link]. Also, the relationship to this “entry” and the front deck, and approach to both, has many ambiguities. The trellis at the facia level frames the lower roof line (which accentuates the higher roof and trellis and creates a court that has interesting horizontal and vertical boundaries. This creates a four step process in the entering experience. The Court itself will be richly landscaped with potted plants as will various sections of the front deck. The large tree cluster on the road side of the deck is the major anchor in this portion of the landscape.

The various platforms, added to the front deck, along with potted plants will create several intimate areas for sitting and conversation that receive light and shadow at different times of the the day. The extension of the Living Room wall and planting will screen the approach to the Entry Court and the front decking from one another and bring suitable focus to each area.

With these changes and the addition of the door in the Living Room front wall, the front deck area becomes a natural extension of the Living Room. Intimate, outdoor sitting areas rich with plants and art objects has long been a mainstay of the Bay Area Style. It is a major signature element of the style and the way of living that gave rise to it. The way that the front deck is framed by the greater landscape and the house make this an ideal setting for plants, wine and dialog.


The major alteration to the existing house is the roof - it is extended and a trellis is added. The present structure is a simple expression of the Sea Ranch idiom [link]. I respect this body of work, however, there are problems it does not deal with and a number of alterations have already been made to this house that destroy the continuous, shingled “bent-plane” so common to this style. There was sever water damage to the house by leakage at the roof wall seam along the long outer wall facing up slope and northerly. The last owner replace the wood roof with asphalt tiles and copious flashing. Effective for leaks but less than harmonious in regards the original design intent. Interior blinds were added in the clearstory windows to control sunlight.

Roofs are meant to shelter and the they should express shelter. By extending the roof and adding trellises, the building is better protected, a water storage function is provided (and water kept away from the foundations), greater screening is provided and the roof “mass” is effected two ways: on one hand it is better balanced with the Nest and on the other it is much lighter. It also pulls the eye out toward the sky.

To see how this works, you have to study both plan and elevation and put them together in your mind. There are layers of roof that cantilever on cantilever getting progressively lighter and open. These are juxtaposed on elements below like the carport trellis forming the Entry Court. Of the three ways to create termination: bending, dying against a greater mass, extreme cantilever - it is the latter that is used here.


Up slope from the existing house is a full lot with no structure on it. The slope continues from the the drawing and the top property is higher than both the existing house and the Nest when built. There is a house near the property line on the next lot over. I have thought of two Studio - Guest House solutions. The first, as series of separated glass boxes with each serving a unique function [link], and the second a semi-circular postUsonian suspended off a central mass [link]. Both of these concepts can be made to work and both have something different to offer. Gail has objections to both designs: she feels that the glass boxes will take up too much of the site and that the postUsonian will dominate the entire complex. While both these objections can be dealt with in purely architectural terms, the essence of the concerns has merit. It boils down to what is the use of this environment to be?

I think the glass box scheme actually serves the program well. They will, by necessity, spread all over the remaining site. The postUsonian actually provides functions that are best served by my Bay Area Studio [link] which will have to be built under any circumstance. As a program, the postUsonian may be more than is required fore Elsewhere which is Gail’s home and workplace and my place to come home to when I am free of the demands of location associated with my work. The Elsewhere site will never support the robust workspace that my work requires.

We have decided on a compact earth-sheltered structure that sits in an already clear area, looks over the existing structure and presents a green roof to our neighbor.

posted: May 30, 2005 • updated: June 9, 2005
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Part One of Gail’s Nest
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