“The most important thing about a design strategy is letting the house take second to the space,” says Noah Walker, President and Founder of Walker Workshop – a Los Angeles based design firm made famous for its breath-taking modern structures in nature. Walker Workshop specializes in creating minimalist spaces that utilize the natural elements of the surrounding space. One of the Walker Workshop’s most captivating projects, The Oak Pass Home, brings California’s famous valley landscape and Coast Live Oak trees into the spotlight.
“It would have been easy to make a 10,000 square foot house on the top of the ridge – but it would’ve blocked all the views of this unique property. Even though we’re designing a home, we don’t want the project to take attention away from the environment around it. We created a more minimalist pavilion at the side of the property and put the rest of the house underground, so as not to block any views or trees or existing topography.”
“The client purchased the property and thankfully wasn’t in a rush. We really got to take our time developing the design to fit the landscape of the site. We had the wonderful opportunity as designers to have barbeques out on the 3-acre property, really getting to understand the space. There were a ton of old oak trees, one hundred and thirty total. In Southern California oak trees are protected, so we treated them as a part of the design from the beginning.”
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A huge component of the Walker Workshop’s design aesthetic is the utilization of natural light and landscape; the Oak Pass Home is no exception. Walker’s design compliments the surrounding foliage to a tee, as the rooftop herb garden seemingly blends with various types of crawling grass and moss on surrounding rocks. While a typical home would have a front door as a focal piece on a main level, one enters the Oak Pass Home from above. Walker and his team designed the home ‘upside-down,’ in that the larger and social spaces such as the kitchen, living and dining rooms, are on the main floor, whereas the bedrooms and more intimate spaces are laid out down below. Reminiscent of Pierre Koenig’s Stahl Home from 1950’s Hollywood Hills, the Oak Pass Home contains the same panoramic views and floor to ceiling glass walls. It’s a cinematic experience, transitioning from the public to private spaces of the home. As a pedestrian strolling through, one is constantly being reoriented with the lay of the land as the house follows its contours.
“The house answers what nature already has out there, instead of forcing a layout onto the land,” Walker explains. Like a director, he sets up scenes and conveys mood with structure and material. “All of the rooms in the house have some sort of scenic view – what with valleys on the one side and canyons on the other. Except for one: the courtyard on the lower level, that services the bedrooms. It acts as a special anecdote to the house, almost zen like. No windows, concrete walls, a fire pit. Rather than have 50 or 60 feet of windowless hallway, we added this light well so that the space would still have a connection to nature despite being underground.”
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“As far as sustainability goes, there’s definitely a connectivity between nature and this home. We designed the home in a way that it’ll be climatically responsive. It has an extensive green roof. Earth materials act as great insulators to keep the lower levels cooler in the summer. Almost 50% of the house is under planting material which is a very green concept in reducing the urban heat island effect, while also allowing the owner access to vegetables or fruit in a garden. Sustainability also ties into the longevity of a home. Although it can be sad to part ways with a project, it’s a great feeling knowing that it’ll continue to stand and adapt to its environment and owners as times goes on.”
Perhaps the Oak Pass Home will live as long as the trees that frame the home from every angle, providing a shadow of majesty and intimacy. The design of the home highlights one tree in particular, one of the oldest and largest oaks on the property. The tree could almost be mistaken for some type of bonsai if one were looking at it from the 75-foot infinity pool – stretching from living room to property’s edge, its branches intricate, lush and crawling, the large trunk hidden by the lower layers of home. Walker admits to designing this moment in particular – dramatic and impactful, yet beautiful and serene. An image of harmony between man and nature, where sustainable design achieves its optimal success.