Study in Outdoor - Indoor Living
Cooper House was designed as a vacation someday-to-be
retirement home for Southern California.
was to built out of basic simple materials: Precast
and gunite concrete with a sand colored/textured
plaster finish; Spanish tile floors (with carpeted
areas); oak or birch furniture; painted steel framed
folding doors and windows; natural fiber carpets
and oriental rugs.
is an outdoor pavilion house easy to maintain
clean. Mrs. Cooper said she wanted a house that
she could wash out with a hose except for the
carpeted areas which were to be raised or sunken
and protected. She also wanted a house where
integral part of the daily life. For the
Coopers this meant part of the swimming pool
and placed to be
center of things. So, I designed her a food service
area in a swimming pool.
Cooper was an engineer and had made his money
electronics. He wanted a work-studio detached from
the house. We discussed, in 1960, a Guest House
but I did not add that until 1965 when Max Stormes
did a perspective of the building. I further
this part of the design in 1999 when I started
adapting the concept for todays circumstances.
The studio, designed in 1960, was further developed
at this time. The design, however, remains mostly
like it was originally conceived and drawn.
House was never built. The Coopers liked the
however they wanted to see the construction method
proved out before they started. The construction
method was developed for the American Pools Display
and Office Building which remained un-built
lack of financing. I was about to get my first
lesson on banks and unusual architecture
did not get approved because of the design was
considered too radical. I moved to New York shortly
thereafter and lost contact
clients. The gunite method was proved out, at a later date, on a school project for which I was a consultant and I used it on a number of projects later in the 60s.
site for the Cooper house was an interesting
one. It was
inland about 20 miles on a north-south line half
way between Newport Beach and Redondo Beach.
was in a grove of Avocado Trees which were large,
attractive and messy. I think that I got paid
majority of my fee in Avocados which was all right
with me at the time. The site was near a quarry
and had a sudden rocky out cropping at the North
East portion of the property, The total site
about 10 acres but only a smale section of it was
considered buildable by the Coopers - to them,
meant the least attractive part of the landsacpe
that looked at the better areas.
house was designed to be built part way up and into
this out cropping with all natural landscaping (other
than the Sunken Garden) replanted including the
covering for the roof. Earth Sheltered housing it
was soon to be called. I do not recall having a
name for it then and it was considered quite novel
at the time.
were several influences on this work: the obvious
one was the Jester House by Frank Lloyd Wright
which featured round rooms, semidetached, clustered
a swimming pool. I showed this house to the Coppers
and they agreed that it fit their lifestyle
concept Taliesin Architects built a version of the Jester house in the late 60s.
Another work that I had just discovered, upon moving
to Southern California after leaving Taliesin,
the Lowell Beach House by Schindler - this was
just a few blocks away from where I lived when
moved to Newport Beach. The raised living area,
the overall abstractness of the
work, the use of concrete and plaster had high
(it is still one of my favorite buildings). While
at Taliesin, I spent an afternoon and evening
the Price House outside of Phoenix. The high pavilion
roof and how it worked as a junction between
wings in a warm climate impressed me greatly. Still,
the greatest influence remained the National
in Washington D.C. where I spent so much time a
decade earlier. The Cooper House was one of
studies which I worked with round forms and the
first - along with the American Pool project
I achieved command of the form. In addition, I
had worked out a way to build it. Just prior
to designing this house I spent a week with
Bruce Goff at his studio in the Price Tower.
We talked from 10 am in the morning until about
two or three the next morning every day. We went out to
see some of his built works; looked at his drawings
and art works. He introduced me to Gaudi and
the Watts Towers, modern music and various parts
of his vast art library and slide collection.
It was the most compact, extensive educational
Goff knew what he was doing and why he was
doing it more than any architect I have ever
engaged with. Bruce’s
sensibility slowly worked it way into this work
- it still
is working in as
the world of today.
the time I designed this house I was working
a gunite Forman for American Pools. I had this
idea that sprayed concrete could be used for
and wanted to learn the medium. Besides working
the gunite crew, I also tied steel and set tile.
There were about six of us that could do the entire
pool building process - a great education in
building that I was to come back to later in the
This meant, in terms of the Cooper design,
that I was practicing (at the time that I designed
it) several of the basic trades that made up
prime grammar - providing an intimacy with the
building that I have rarely exceeded. I keep
coming back to this experience today. Today we
have contractors - not builders. The design-build
experiences cannot be separated. “Contracting,”
while an important aspect of the total process,
is not building. We have many contractors
but few builders. There is too much separation
between the designer and
This must be an intimate experience with high
frequency feedback between visualization and
actualization. The gap is actually growing wider
in recent years.
Building the Cooper house will be an exercise
in closing this gap.
forms have always intrigued me - there is no question
that no matter what influences I have had - or not
- that I would have ended up designing many round
buildings. I believe the form is particularly suited
for residences. There are, however, three aspects
of the round form that make it difficult to handle:
first, it eats up space. A round building will always
use more space than other forms to accomplish the
same utility. Second, the form is not easy to treat
in elevation. Too often, the roofs look like lids
on pots - a different strategy is required than
will work with rectiliner forms. Third, the round
form is difficult for many to built precisely. There
is more complexity with how dimensions have to be
controlled. All of these challenges are met with
the Cooper design.
this design utility space, per se, is not an issue.
This is in reality a large open pavilion with
small areas that are “finished” like
a traditional house. There is distance between
areas - and level changes. The pavilion can be
closed to weather with large folding and sliding
steel and glass doors and windows. The assumption
is, however, that they would remain open most of
the time. The distinction between indoor and outdoor
space is full of ambiguity. This structure is three
semi-connected buildings the largest of which has
a few highly
finished areas within a large covered space. Traditional
square footage calculations do not apply here.
The location of these areas in relation to one
another to the outside and to to wind, sun and
view to carefully chosen. In this case the “extra”
space that comes with the circular form is an asset.
In regards the elevation issue, there are four
solutions employed: the roof, being planted,
has thickness; the profile is curved with “eased”
edges; the walls will be slightly battered
with radius between one plane and another;
and, the finish of the concrete surfaces is
(something notably absent from the Guggenheim
museum in New York). These, in consort, create
a structure with mass yet one that - despite
it strict geometry - has a softness with one
element flowing into the next. the way that
light plays on the surface of this building
is very different than the linier, hard surfaced,
uniform surfaces that make up so much of today’s
residences. The difficulty of building round
forms was dealt with by the construction method.
All edges will be pre-cast on the ground in
forms, then lifted into place and tied to the
steel and mesh for guniting. This way the edges,
which are the most difficult to get precise,
will be crisp and the the gunite/plaster can
be hand-worked to provide a a “crafted” result.
Now, I am considering using compacted earth
for many of the nonstructural walls and floors.
In total, this method saves time and cost while
simplifying workmanship - and, it employs
each form of the “earth-materials” as
is appropriate for their structural and surface
mission. This method also embodies a nicely
physical process in the making of
the building. These days, the entire focus, in the majority of construction,
is to eliminate
the work of building and to remove craft from
the process. This is unfortunate and you can
see the result. It is a false economy. This
building is designed to be build once and to
last several lifetimes with only minimal maintenance.
The way it is built is both it’s esthetic
process of investing human energy
into the structure. There is no substitute
for this and no way to get real quality by
evading the issue with these so-called labor-saving
strategies. Real economy is found in the elimination
of redundant work, material wastage, and specific
labor-wasting processes - not in the whole-sale
avoidance of craft [rbtfBook].
Coopers, as clients, offered an ideal challenge.
a vacation home - one that added up to a causal
outdoor living style and informal entertainment.
They wanted low maintenance and low daily up keep
- easy to clean. They liked contemporary architecture
and realized that their lifestyle would not fit
into a traditional idiom. They wanted a big
including lots of indoor/outdoor transition areas.
They had enough money to build what they wanted.
I wanted to explore certain architectural opportunities,
as well as, a new way of building. It was a
one way this was to be a mainstream organic
more-or-less in the Wrightain tradition. In another,
it is a romanticized classical Greek work in
American idiom. At the same time, there are many
aspects of the design that pushes new ground
today 40 plus years later. Emerging out of this
mix of ideas, influences and methods was the
of my own unique view of architecture. I took my
time with the design letting it grow in my mind.
I thought about the project for three months then
did the drawings in three days - ink on paper
erasers. Whatever all the aspects that fed into
this work, it became a true artistic expression
of (one way) that I saw life. It was my first statement
complete in itself and a work that, if built,
would have stood time very well. It pushes
house concept by a wide margin - the various spaces
interact with one another in a variety of surprising
ways - usually by unexpected vertical viewpoints.
The movement, in recent years, has been back to
closed spaces and single function rooms. This has
to very large houses with many relatively small
rooms of dull demeanor, prosaic space and separated lives in what passes for a family or community.
this house was designed for a couple with grown
children who were away from home, the openness
of the house is extensive. As both the coopers
went about their
into” each other in a variety of ways providing
awareness yet separateness. The typical floor plan
is much more restrictive and
in this regard being a series of boxes organized
around some simple theory of relationship. The
Cooper house is like a landscape you travel through
often finding yourself back at the beginning but
from a different point of view. The traditional
house is a thing. The Cooper environment
is a process.
this building was designed, originally, for
California, I think that it would be better adapted,
today, to the northern California climate. The
land was fairly cool, however, I think that
areas in the southern region are too warm and polluted,
today, for this design. The San Fransico Bay
- on the west side - is ideal for this design which
will be far easier to warm than to cool while
the open design dictated by the intended lifestyle.
To a certain extent, this depends on the temperature
tolerance of the occupants. At any rate, a warm
building in a cool climate can be a real pleasure
and this is the adaption I am assuming with my
present design development efforts.
[note: in December 2005, I was contacted about the feasibility of building a house, in the Virgin Islands, based on the Cooper House. This would be an ideal location for this concept as the site is on top of a low mountain, with a constant breeze, on a small island with a 360 degree exposure to the ocean]
is a building I want to build very badly. I am looking
for the right couple that wants the simple, organic
lifestyle this design provides and has the four
million dollars required to build a work such as
this - a rare combination, I admit. However, with a talented owner-builder, careful buying of materials, a situation removed from the economy of a place like Northern California, and a tight design-build process, this cost can be reduced dramatically. The Cooper house also lends itself to being built in phases. It is possible to expand the structure easily as long as the foundations for all of it are placed in the beginning as well as evolve it through progressive levels of finish. An enterprising couple could afford this house by “growing” it over a number of years. The experience of building, if approached correctly, integral to the act of making architecture and a key aspect of proper ownership. Today, houses are brought and sold as a commodity with the main consideration in their making the resale value. People own their homes - in the crass sense - rather than steward - in the high sense - an intimate part of their planetary environment.
a building that can be grasped whole
as instantly and simply as this one can, the Cooper
house has a great number of sub-areas of distinct
character and feeling. The building is like a landscape
with many micro climates. This is accomplished
the geometry which works on three levels of recursion.
Approaching the building, the circle of the great
roof is the dominate feature. However, when walking
in the building, the space breaks down into
several subordinate areas. Each of these create
a complete place of their own while, simultaneously,
flowing into other spaces. Prospect and refuge
intermingled depending on the direction one is
looking always providing foreground, middle-ground
views. The Cooper House also provides a rich development
of complex vertical spaces as well as indoor/outdoor
ambiguity. The great roof and its supporting
columns anchors the basic space. Every functional
area of the building is formed in relation to it
while moving in and out of the basic geometry
the roof. The changes in level and the interplay
between the floor levels causes the vertical dimension
to shape the character of the space as much as
the horizontal. The boundaries between specific
areas are particularity rich in spatial complexity.
They are like the tide pools between land and
All this is accomplished with simple geometric
forms that intersect in ways that make highly
dimensional spaces. The way that this space
is created is by light. Always moving sunlight
the day and variable mechanical lighting at night.
How this building reads - is formed by
light, shade and shadow; and, by subtle always changing colors.
finish of the basic concrete/gunite structure is
critical in this regard. The texture and color
like beach sand - like a sand castle at the point
between being wet and dry. The light - direct
reflecting - plays on this palet. It makes a sensual
touch. These soft textured concrete surfaces
radiate different heat signatures depending on
their orientation to the sun at any moment and
heat is re-circulated in the structure - providing
cool to warm surfaces. The tile floors do the
This is a building to get close to and FEEL.
sections and elevations have to be read in relationship
to the plan. They show walls and things which are
not the object - the space is the object and the
only valid perspective is that of a human inside
Materials and Methods
addition to the
form and geometries of this building, which provides
its great esthetic quality, it is the Cooper house’s
materiality that gives it its earthy, tactile presence
and the capability of provoking a strong visceral
response. I was not able to accomplish this
level of both factors, in a built project, until
the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Executive Offices
to be completed in early 2004 - almost 24 years
One aspect of this latency is related to opportunity;
another, to the complexity of accomplishing this,
within a contemporary program and
budget, given the rapid move toward manufactured
components and materials.
conceived, the basic material palette was pre-cast
concrete, gunite (sprayed concrete), plaster and
clay tile. Today, I would use the same only add
compacted earth construction in all the non-structural
the building. This will soften the surfaces considerably
and provide a more sustainable and economical result. I also facilitates a greater and more natural range of colors in the final finish. It also, if built in NorCal,
is more expressive to one of California’s
building tradition and, now returning, idioms.
I was not as sensitive to these as I am today falsely
thinking that being modern, and “creative,” meant
disclaiming the past. I decided on this change
when designing the iterations compound in 2000 [link].
Cooling and Water Management Strategies
Cooper House was conceived from the beginning to
make maximum use of natural cooling, heating and
water management (earth-sheltered, passive) strategies.
At the time I conceived it, these were not in vogue
a rich history from pre-industrial times to draw
upon, as well as Wright’s second Jacobs House
In the 1960s, of course, these ways were considered
decided it had solved the energy equation forever.
My concern, then, was not energy savings or even
ecological impacts although I was aware of these
things. My intent was more direct and physical.
I was a young man then and engaged in my first
truly passionate relationship [link].
When I designed this building, I was very aware
of my physical nature
it in fact. I wanted a building that was a direct
expression of this sexual awaking. I was conscious
of this at the time and the Coopers were the first,
and actually the last, clients I have had that
seemed to share this perception (or, at least,
expressed it). These aspects of our nature are
ignored in our society in the day-to-day world,
exploited shamelessly in the media and absent,
in any legitimate way, from our the vast majority
of our architecture [link].
I have stated, this building is not designed
for a conventional
lifestyle. It does not accommodate conventional
furniture. The WAY those living in the
relate to the building is intrinsically
different than living in a conventional building.
regard, the Cooper House is far more like a boat
than a traditional house. In this design you migrate
to the PLACE that fits your functional requirements
and esthetic mood. As an indoor-outdoor pavilion
structure, there are a variety of spaces - at any
time of the day - that have the weather orientation,
prospect-refuge mix and functional facilities appropriate
for what you are
doing. One MOVES to that space. This is
a totally different strategy than the conventional
one of controlling all the variables (thus, limiting
them) so that a given space is always appropriate
for a given function. The Copper House repudiates
this as a solution and claims a different
path - a more natural approach that opens the entire
landscape of the environment to the possibilities
of a variety of uses.
Cooper House is not something you live in,
it augments a
living style that is more akin to a hunter-gatherer
culture. The building becomes part of the landscape
with each area a different mix of features and
amenity. The attributes [link] of
shelter, arrangement and expression are both carefully
and subtly integrated. This living style was briefly
experimented with in Northern California, at the
turn of the 20th Century, by Bernard Maybeck and
others who where exploring more “natural” ways
of being in a modern society.
this work, the intimacy with the structure
is greatly enhanced by by the texture,
color and quality or the materials [link].
This is basically and (cement augmented) earthen structure whose mass is radiant heated.
If built on the Northern California coast line
(or similar clime) the heating of this thermal
mass would be done the majority of the year. These
earthen materials are of the kinds you want to
get close to - to embrace. This provides a sensual
quality much lacking in most “civilized” architecture.
This approach has long been part of the organic
tradition, however, it is more urgently needed
now than ever before. Over the last 50 years,
post WWII, the build environment has become increasingly
synthetic and “cold.” I designed this work over
ago and was quite aware of this aspect of it when
I did it. This aspect of the design, however, speaks
to me in a much stronger and urgent way, today,
than then. This is a measure of how much has been
lost over the last decades.
core of my approach to architecture remains the
plan. This was the dominate attitude of modern
architecture post World War II. There was a, perhaps,
naive idea that life can be positively effected
by the way a building is organized. It
turned out, of course, that there are many other
play in the mix. However, we should return - with
contemporary knowledge - to the way that
a floor plan brings a specific focus to a life
- a viewpoint. Architecture is an art
you live in. The subject of this
art is this life lived within. A great
work provides a distinct point of view - a way of
experiencing the world like no other. A way of
being. A uni-verse. Architecture
is the background music of the film that is the story of that life.
Cooper House will be the built expression of this
concept of architecture: serine and provocative;
intimate and expansive; organic and sophisticated;
blending into the landscape and providing a district
human point of view; open to the weather and made
comfortable by transparent technology; modest living
and the luxury of designed space; physical and
spiritual; a strong sense of place and an endlessly
fascinating abstraction of the play of form.
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August 23, 1999
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August 23, 1999
January 24, 2006
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