2018 P/A Awards
“It is formally very interesting: a collage of almost found spaces assembled into a whole. There is also something really elegant about how the interior and exterior blend together.” —juror Florian Idenburg, Intl. Assoc. AIA
Pioneertown is one of California’s stranger open secrets. Dating to the 1940s, it was built in the image of an Old West community, with the intention that actors could live there year-round and take part in the filming of cowboy pictures on site. Given the unique locale, it was only fitting that Brooklyn, N.Y.– and Cambridge, Mass.–based architects Para Project should come up with a unique solution: Charged with retrofitting one 1950s pseudo-rustic cabin as a 21st-century weekend getaway, the designers elected to embed the original structure within a wholly new one, while still preserving some of the Pioneertown spirit.
The team effectively gutted the existing “homestead” house, a modest 400-square-foot structure, leaving only its ghostly walls standing in the new interior. Below that, they placed a sparely appointed living room—a subterranean den mercifully shielded from the harsh desert sun. Around the square block of the homestead there clusters a complex spatial sequence including a horseshoe-shaped open-air arrival court, a skylit spiral staircase, new kitchen and dining spaces, and a master bedroom of identical proportions to the original house. (Indeed, it’s built on the earth excavated to create the underground lounge.) A separate new structure—clad in all-black glass, with a keyhole-shaped plan—will serve as a studio for the art-dealer clients.
The complexity of this arrangement unfolds as a sequence of revelations, alternating between light and dark, confined and open. But for the architects, the driving force of the design was its plan, conceived as independent formal fragments coming together to make something more than the sum of their parts. The spiral, the curve, the square, each is thought of as a sort of “actor” in the drama of the house, all assembling around the footprint of the homestead to form an oddball community within the already oddball community of Pioneertown.
Project: Pioneertown House, Pioneertown, Calif.
Architect: Jon Lott / Para Project, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass. . Jon Lott, AIA, Lauren McClellan (project team)
Size: 3,200 square feet
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
Pioneertown House Pioneertown, California, was originally built in the 1940s as a live-in motion-picture set for actors. Now, it's much more of a pilgrimage scene for Angelinos. The seemingly alien landscape of the Mohave Desert – large piles of boulders and Joshua trees – makes for a foreign counterpart to urban culture. The particular site for this house is a 5-acre boulder parcel owned by a West Hollywood art dealing couple who want a little weekend spot and an artist studio. There is an existing “homestead” masonry cabin on the property. Built in the 1950s and only 20ft square(ish), this humble original acts as the primitive origin for the clients' weekend outings. The design is a house around this house. Its organization takes queues from the natural landscape. But rather than piles of boulders (objects) it experiments with piles of rooms (voids). It plays with a “pilgrimage” for these domestic types: rooms, courts, closets, counters, bookcases, pantries... All are actors. All pile and gather around the homestead. The separation and movement between them makes common ground between interior and landscape. Each of the rooms relates to the natural in very particular ways. Orientation, material, proximity.... The most private spaces abut a large boulder formation to the south. A large u-shaped forecourt is open to the sky and separates car port from residence. Both the forecourt and the original homestead emphasize a vertical relationship with the site. The living areas, bedroom, and kitchen, each maintain quasi-cardinal horizontal relations. There are some doubles that emerge among favorite parts. The homestead's doppelganger is the bedroom. It is made from the excavated ground below the original homestead. The fore-court's vanity, made evident in a highly polished surface, mirrors itself further into the landscape. The studio is a phantom-limb –a member partly lost-- its presence as double is maintained through its distance. Influences and points of departure include: Hejduks House 1, Kahn's Fischer house, and his Domincan-Motherhouse-plan-struggle in the late 60s. Equally influential, though perhaps less evident, are Ito's White U, and Shinohara's Uncompleted House.