Vault House 08.04.14

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When designing a beach house, cardinal rule is this: you must see the ocean – preferably through wall-sized windows or from multiple decks. In densely populated coastal areas, such as Southern California, this has resulted in rows of shotgun houses with large windows that face the Pacific Ocean. The style may vary – from steely modern to Spanish to faux-Danish kitsch – but that view is always paramount.

Vault House, recently completed by the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee (Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee), offers an elegant, curvaceous riff on the archetype. Located in Oxnard, an hour from LA, Vault House is a deceptively simple white rectangular box on the sand. The interior, however, is made up of a series of carved vaults that meet in surprising junctures, creating plays of light and shadow. The ocean can be seen all the way from the back of the house, and views and natural light enter each room, brightening the typically dim street end. A central courtyard acts as an outdoor room, letting in even more light and offering shelter from coastal winds.

Johnston Marklee sought to create a highly sculptural building. It began with a basic form then repeated a strong motif. Vault House's project architect Katrin Terstegen, explains: "We are always looking for simple, almost dumb, geometries. Like what Ellsworth Kelly does." Kelly's clean triangles, trapezoids, and squares are an apt reference. Another is the sculpture of Henry Moore – the house is a sharper, more mathematical version. The shape suggests the act of carving away at a mass of white marble to create domed voids. The exterior coating, a skin of flexible cement that hides seams and joints, emphasises the marble. This effect is also seen in the practice's View House, built in 2009 in Argentina, a concrete form that was similarly sliced and carved into swoops and voids.

The vault shape also echoes the curving windows and doorways of the red-roofed Spanish-style homes that are common in the region. For the street-facing side of the house, curved garage doors and windows settle it comfortably within the neighbourhood. "We wanted the street view to be subtle," Terstegen says. Nevertheless, the side wall is much more playful, incised with what look like upright and inverted mouse holes.

The height of the interior vaults presented an acoustic challenge, so an engineer recommended the largest vault be embedded with sound-absorbing plaster. Another solution? White noise. "Luckily, the ocean is right there," Terstegen says.



Eric Staudenmaier



Lyra Kilston

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"We wanted the street view to be subtle,"

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