Designing Dragon House
by Daniel Silvernail
Dragon House was designed for a couple owning an extensive ridge top site in the upperfoothills east of Santa Cruz, CA. Over many years of thinking about their prospective home, they had been drawn to the style of the post-war expressionist architect Bruce Goff, whose flamboyant style had influenced a generation of architects of that era. Thus, they were seeking from us, to say the least, a uniquely expressive work of art.
The client’s program statement stipulated four bedroom, 3-1/2 baths, kitchen, living room, dining room, family room, breakfast nook, pantry, laundry room, and 3-car garage. The area of the residence was initially set at approximately 5,000 square feet.
The program brief also featured requirement for an incredible Conservatory. An indoor greenhouse space filled with lush vegetation and an indoor wading pool, during the design process this space eventually was to reach an area of 1,200 square feet. Universal Design for ease of accessibility also featured prominently among the client’s priorities thus as many rooms as possible were to be on the same level. Given the nature of the ridge-top landform, which slopes gently towards the sea along it’s axis, this proved challenging. Ultimately, the arrived-at solution placed all the rooms with the exception of the Living Room at one level, and the Living Room a few feet lower, resulting in a so-called “sunken living room” effect.
With access facilitated by means of both sweeping stairs and a ramp, the design of this room featured an area to gather centered on their grand piano, extensive built-in seating for leisure and entertaining, a cast-in-place concrete fountain feeding an indoor stream flowing into the wading pool at the Conservatory, and enormous windows specifically framing dramatic views of Monterey Bay and steep, distant ridges in successive valleys to the south.
The exterior expression of Dragon House features a great prow at the Living Room (“head”) end, with the form of the building becoming less exuberant progressing towards the “tail” (garage). Enormous glued-laminated beams coursing from the building’s spine express themselves as the ribs of enormous wings 16 feet overhead, their majesty projected up to 24 feet from the exterior wall line.
Dragon House’ design was based on our client’s needs, desires, memories, and motivations as filtered by our own journey through life – available references might include student sketches of plant cellular structures and anatomical studies of birds and mammals, and youthful ingrained observations of works by remarkable Southern California architects including Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner.
Initiated by our client’s dream, informed by our own passions, instincts, and rational interpretation, Dragon House exists as a unique, powerful, and emotive statement of the art of architectural expression.