• Credit: William Turnbull/MLTW Collection (2000-9) Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Sea Ranch grew out of a remarkable commitment to the 1960s cause of ecology. An enlightened land developer, Oceanic Properties, commissioned the environmentally conscious landscape architect Lawrence Halprin (who passed away last month) to plan the development of a 4,000-acre ranch near Gualala, Calif., some 115 miles north of San Francisco. A low-key second-home community was to be inserted into sheep-grazed grasslands sloping down to surfside bluffs.

As part of the sensitive program, which won a P/A citation in 1965, sites for single-family houses were supplemented by more compact condominium structures on 35 oceanfront acres. The design of this condominium cluster, intended as a model for others, was entrusted to the new firm of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW), the first of several partnerships launched by Charles Moore. In that period of searching for alternative modernisms, MLTW’s design offered a version of the Bay Area idiom that recalled old farming and mining structures.

Beneath the condominiums’ angular silhouette was a modular plan with 10 units, each 24 feet square, laid out around a courtyard sheltered from the wind. Carefully placed square bays took advantage of outward views, with numerous skylights illuminating interiors. In each unit, loft bedrooms sat atop “four-poster” constructions that created cozy shelters-within-shelters for living areas below. Unit 1 in this structure was Charles Moore’s own retreat until his death in 1993.

  • Credit: William Turnbull/MLTW Collection (2000-9) Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Although no additional condominiums were built at the Sea Ranch, the iconic stature of this work endured. In 1991, it was singled out for AIA’s annual Twenty-five Year Award. No history of American architecture is complete without it.

1965 P/A Awards Jury
Paul Hayden Kirk
Gyo Obata
Serge Chermayeff
Edgar Kaufmann Jr.
Lev Zetlin