Portola Valley, California

Taking its name from the forty-one oak trees that dot this Portola Valley site, the house grew out of a focus on establishing moments between the interior living spaces and the California oaks beyond. This goal was central to the design process of the house, which began with a careful mapping of the locations and expanses of the trunks, primary branches, and canopies of the trees on the site. This mapping gave rise to the idea of overlapping built pavilions with nature around them, producing spaces that blur the line between indoor and outdoor.

The small footprints of the pavilions, balanced with rooflines that extend beyond the pavilion volumes, gave us the flexibility to orient the home to let in sunlight at just the right moments and to capture soft breezes that enliven the spaces. Two parallel concrete walls act as the backbone of the house and hold a cantilevering roof that extends past the walls on either side. The pavilions that branch out from this backbone are raised slightly above the grassland and nestle among the mature trees, placing us in a privileged relationship to the natural environment that surrounds. Windows frame the sculptural form of the trees, while the long rooflines reach out toward the trees’ lateral branches; the space sheltered between them is usable too, conceived as outdoor rooms that are part building, part nature.

It’s not just through form that this blurring between exterior and interior occurs. A minimal material palette of fair faced concrete, vertical grain cedar, and steel allowed us to visually and sensorially connect the various spaces of the house. The concrete walls disappear into the ground and reappear as horizontal landscape walls that anchor the house to the hillside, weaving delicate lines into the grassland through the oaks. Just as these walls weave through the trees, so does the house; here, we began to see that the basis for the architecture’s relationship with the oaks was not through mimicry, but by connecting our well-being to theirs.


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