The modern dwelling wasn't born in Southern California, but it came of age there. Following the 1920s projects of Neutra and Schindler, the modern American house, with its open-plan informality and effortless crossover from interior to exterior, found its most paradigmatic expression in the architecture of Southern California's postwar suburbs. A decisive shift came with the reassembled fragments of Frank Gehry's Santa Monica House, and later the topological propositions of Greg Lynn. Giving new expression to this legacy of modernism, a recently completed residence by Anthony Coscia unites the free plan with free form.
The Skywave House is a highly crafted, sculptural object that is more than just a stand-alone monument. This is a livable work of architecture that draws sustenance from its milieu, while reshaping that milieu through the framing and sequencing of perception. It doesn't just sit in space, it makes space.
The most singular feature of the design is the continuous surface plane—a hovering, form-giving wrapper—that curls around and through it like a calligraphic brush stroke. This free skin loosely encloses the free-plan interior. No columns or walls encumber the views or the flow of living space, which unfolds upon three floating platforms connected by the full-height atrium. The stepping levels, or half-levels, provide a measure of privacy and spatial differentiation. The few partitions that do exist rise only to seven feet (2.13 m), then dissolve into glass panels that meet the continuous ceiling surface, which in turn blurs into the walls and floor. Detailed with minimalist precision, the frameless, transparent glazing draws the surrounding environment inside. The architect explains that the two-tone exterior cladding of black-toned stucco and white-painted sheet metal is inspired by the yin-yang—symbol of a balanced whole.
The Skywave House represents something of a personal odyssey for Coscia, who created it not only as residence for himself and his wife, but also as an emblematic demonstration of his ideas in practice. Coscia self-financed the project and worked on it gradually, as permitted by the everyday demands of his firm, Coscia Day Architecture. Coscia and his partner, Johnathen Day, met while they were students at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in the early 1990s. It was at Sci-Arc, then located in an ad-hoc assemblage of industrial sheds in Santa Monica, that Coscia came into contact with the influential theorists Jeffrey Kipnis and Bahram Shirdel, after having completed his undergraduate architecture education at Cornell University in upstate New York. Since opening their practice, Coscia and Day have completed numerous residences and restaurants characterized by highly modeled, "topomorphic" forms and the innovative use of materials.
Sited on a typical 40 ft. (12.2 m)-wide suburban lot, the Skywave House is located in the eclectic beach town of Venice, Los Angeles, where Gehry, Morphosis, and Coop Himmelb(l)au have all left their mark. It renounces the idea of a frontal face, instead taking an omnidirectional stance to the surrounding landscape. With the scent of the ocean only seven blocks away, the east elevation curves like a rolling "tube" wave, such as surfers dream of. By contrast, the west elevation forms a hard incline reminiscent of the San Gabriel Mountains, roughly 30 miles (48 km) away, which bookend the Los Angeles basin. Perimeter plantings of tall bamboo and trees provide an outer screen that mitigates the transparency of the house itself.
The closer one looks at the Skywave House, the more difficult it becomes to identify where the inside meets the outside. Surface and volume begin to shake loose from each other. The lofted, curvaceous shell alternately contains and is contained by the angular glass box that rises up and through its folds. Numerous slits in the wrapper admit daylight, and naturally circulate fresh air. Cooling sea breezes enter through the west-facing scoop skylights, while warm air exits to the east—except in the event of rain, when sensors close them automatically. Connected by an enormous glass sliding door, half of the living room lies outside in the open air. The nearby bamboo grove becomes a kind of enclosure. This elevated lounge space hovers within the gentle embrace of a monolithic structural carapace, not unlike a boat hull, which was fabricated off site. Beneath the smoothly contoured and cantilevered overhang lies the private acupuncture office of Coscia's wife, as well as the entrance to the main house.
"Program is a tenant to form," says Coscia, channeling Jeffrey Kipnis. Indeed, the living functions are in a sense interchangeable throughout the 2250 ft2 (200 m2) structure, excepting the bathrooms and kitchen which of course require a water supply. The whole place hangs together like an airy pavilion. Nonetheless each level of the house has its own sectional character in relation to the wrapper, and enjoys changing phenomenal qualities of light, transparency, and views which permeate everyday living activities. The ground level is a luminous art gallery and lounge with adjacent kitchen and dining space. A suspended bridge-stair inside the 29 ft (9 m)-tall atrium leads to the living room facing south, and to the north a short climb up to the sleeping and bathing suite. The roomy spa is infused with daylight through the all-glass north elevation, which gives onto a balcony. Bathing takes place in the open, in an Agape freestanding tub. Above the shoji-style sliding doors that modulate privacy for the toilet and walk-in shower, the frameless glass panels create a labyrinth of reflections. The flooring material throughout the upper levels is Italian dark porcelain tile, while the ground level has smooth concrete flooring (with radiant heating) that carries inside from the garden.
Rigorously eye-studied and hand-modeled, the complex forms of the Skywave House were realized through the arduous interweaving of digital and analog techniques. Many of the most difficult details were finalized in situ, Coscia says, where irregular openings had to be glazed, and straight lines had to join with curves. A number of design elements were added during the construction process, such as the long horizontal slit window in the living room, which accentuates the continuous planarity of the shell. In its finished state, the Skywave House remains perpetually unfinished, an ever-changing living environment. It embodies not only the original design concept, but also the transformative encounter with the site and materials, and the sensory realities of lived experience.