Carlson-Reges Residence

Carlson-Reges Residence in Los Angeles, California by ROTO, 1996

Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne's partnership in the firm Morphosis created a balance between their two design approaches; emphasizing aspects of construction and theory respectively. When Rotondi left Morphosis and formed ROTO, with Clark Stevens, the exploitation of a building's construction and its inherent process leading to this phase became the focus of the new firm. The Carlson-Reges Residence is indicative of ROTO's unique client interaction, design process, and construction: in this case a design build with the client as builder, a loose experiential modeling coupled with stricter geometrical analysis, and minimal construction documents with much on-site improvisation.

The residence is located in an old electric company cabling structure north of downtown Los Angeles. Having lived there for a long time, the couple have amassed a considerable collection of building materials and industrial artifacts from much work and renovation. The experience and concomitant skill acquired over the years helped to enable the client to act as builder. The role the client would play informed the design process from the beginning, enabling an exploration in construction typically not considered in most residential work. These means, along with the wife's large collection of art required for display, pointed the focus of the design toward the volumetric possibilities of the project.

The architect began by analyzing the existing sizes and spaces of the structure and the site in relation to the surrounding areas (freeways, trains, mountains, city). Volumetric pieces were created: a shield protects the kitchen from the strong southern sun, reflects noise from the train yard, and acts as a protective garden for an existing forty-foot tall bamboo stand. The ground floor became a garden and gallery, while a new exterior ground plane was created sixteen feet above grade, level with an elevated lap pool. These and other spaces shaped through this part of the design process are unified by a volume created through a geometric analysis of existing structural conditions, layered with other information. The solution created a roof supported by a wave-like truss system structurally independent of the existing shell.

Non-structural steel detailing was improvised on site, based on availability of material and labor. Many ideas were tested full size and any "mistakes" that happened through these tests merely informed the next step; removal was not an option. Although a possibility based on circumstance, the ability to work on a project with such flexibility enabled Rotondi to create an architecture unique to his thinking that also is very personal for the client, one of the goals of an architect so rarely achieved.