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Lindy Small Architecture

Lindy Small Architecture
Built: 2016

Photographer: Russell Abraham

Lindy Small Architecture was hired to design a modern, size-appropriate, zero net energy house on a south-facing lot in the Oakland hills, with views of four bridges, the Farallones and Tilden Park. It doesn’t get much better than that for an architect.

The first step in the design process is always finding the source of inspiration for each particular project – how to make the project embody the spirit of the client as well as the spirit of the site and the program. In designing the PLUShouse, Lindy Small, AIA began with the tangible, which led to the intuitive:

  • The Site: a small 6500 s.f., lot facing due south, with Bay views
  • The Client: extraordinarily bright, talented, interesting and forward-looking, a musician, a pilot, a software designer and a dog owner
  • The program: a 2,000 s.f. house with no stairs, acoustically designed for musical events
  • The intangible: intuition, trusting the balance between thought and instinct

Initially, two things inspired Small about her client. She is a musician (as is the architect) and a pilot (both rotating and fixed wing). These two interests informed the design as well as the spirit of the house. The architect began by putting some of her thoughts and words onto paper. Phrases such as choreography of views, spaces flowing gracefully into one another and light orchestrated over time stood out in her notes. Small was also inspired by the lyrical and sculptural nature of music and having every aspect of the home considered and crafted together.

These thoughts and the homeowner’s interests became a springboard for the design of the PLUShouse. The image of air currents and the roof of the house as a wing (both fixed and rotating) became essential to the design, as did the acoustics for the playing of music.

An important requirement of the PLUShouse program was that it be on one level, with no stairs. It was quickly determined that a single-level 2,000 s.f. house with a garage could not fit on the lot. The most viable option was to locate the garage below the house, with an interior stair from the garage leading up into the house.

To comply with the ‘no stair’ requirement, an exterior looping ramp connects the street and garage level to the entry of the house. Once inside the house, a boomerang-shaped interior ramp presents a gradual unfolding of the house, exposing Bay views as the ramp ascends from the entry to public spaces. The guest room, located at the entry level (lower end of the ramp), has physical and acoustic privacy from the public spaces and master suite, which are located at the upper ramp level. The salon, part of the public space at the top of the ramp, was designed for a grand piano with performance space for a woodwind quartet (of which the architect became the French horn player).

Both acoustics and solar orientation were critical in the design of the salon. Bookshelves wrap the salon for acoustic value and the roof kicks up to create non-parallel walls and admit high north light. Protected light is admitted from high windows facing east and expansive views of the San Francisco Bay are visible through the living and dining rooms. In the client’s words, “the sound in the public space, courtesy of the shape of the ceiling, has a clear, bright expansiveness. Music surrounds you.”

Another important requirement for the PLUShouse was that it be zero net energy. Photovoltaic panels on the roof (the house is 100% electric), recycled gray water, radiant heat and rain water captured in a 16,000 gallon water tank under the driveway combine to exceed the zero net energy requirement. Hence, the house is named the PLUShouse.