On October 10, 2017, 14 wildfires combined to become the “Northern California Firestorm”, the deadliest fire in California History. More than 14,000 homes were destroyed in the wine region and 44 people lost their lives. One of the most notable structures to succumb to the fire was the world renowned “Glass House”, a dynamic prism of concrete, glass and wood, perched on top of one of the highest peaks in the region.
The original “Glass House” was constructed in 2003, designed by Lautner Associates, the successor firm to the legendary architectural practice of John Lautner. Located on the top of Twin Sisters peak, the 13,500 square foot home enjoyed sweeping views of the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The design was based on a hexagon plan with a steel framed, glass-enclosed upper level over a concrete basement and dramatic cantilevered swimming pool. The fire spared the concrete basement and pool structure, but the steel and wood framed upper level was completely destroyed.
While the “Glass House” was one of the most striking houses ever built in the Bay Area, it was not without its functional drawbacks. One unfortunate example was the glass-enclosed outdoor courtyard in the center of the home. With six roof segments sloping into the courtyard, coupled with exceptionally high winds at the top of the mountain, a vacuum whirlwind was created, much like a vortex, that ended up drawing in nearby birds, leaving the courtyard space unsightly and unusable. Similarly, the dramatic cantilevered swimming pool was never used due to the constant high winds.
When the owners decided to rebuild, they were committed to correcting these deficiencies and making the house, now called “Mystic Ranch”, fully usable. Their first thought was to enclose the courtyard by inverting the hexagon roofs, almost like an archetypal carousel. The new architectural team, however felt that this approach would result in a static design that was not in the spirit of the Lautner original. Instead, the architects have proposed a dynamic composition of overlapping roof elements that terminate in a giant skylight at the center of the new enclosed atrium. The complex roof design includes two low hexagon segments over the entry and kitchen, two high segments over the grand living space, and two rotated segments that slide between the low and high segments. Plan improvements include new designs for the kitchen, entry, gym, library and master bedroom. Tall, frameless glass windbreaks have been added to the restored cantilevered pool, providing shelter from the heavy winds.
The new “Mystic Ranch” design honors the original “Glass House”, as it reinterprets the prismatic architecture, making this stunning residence finally suitable for daily family life, and while the geometry and structural challenges of this projects are certainly complex, the design solution appears effortless.