Construction Materials: 2x6's, 4x8's, concrete, stucco,
spray-on recycled paper, acrylic, Styrofoam and metal lathing
Special Features: "Truncated, 21 foot high conical structure
14 feet in diameter. Single 6 foot diameter clear acrylic hemisphere
skylight for natural lighting. Inclined ÒnostrilÓ vents at top and bottom
for natural air circulation. All shelves and storage built-in as part
of the structure for earthquake resistance. Spray-on cellulose insulation
and pure white colored interior finish.
Owner Requirements: Minnie Williams wanted a bathroom and laundry
area that is functional, secure and safe. She was not concerned about
views but wanted ample natural lighting. She had no particular shape
or preference to image.
Ecological Requirements: None
Interior looking up through the skylight.
General Background of the Project: The Williams family owns a
three bedroom bungalow overlooking a large park in Berkeley, California.
Minnie Williams, wife and mother of two young adults, was looking for
a contractor to build an addition to her existing house. A contractor's
referral service put her in-touch with our firm. Upon inspecting the
site I asked if she had any preferences for what the structure would
be. She said she had none and was receptive to any ideas. The limited
budget dictated use of easily located materials with typical construction
Being in a sensitive earthquake zone I knew that the structure must
be stable and intrinsically strong. One of the simplest shapes to
use was a cone, like the Tee-pee of the indigenous cultures of California
and also like the common ocean barnacles found in San Francisco Bay
and the Pacific Ocean. I already knew about the barnacle's extreme
resistivity to tremendous wave forces and using nature's conical model
made sense. Being symmetrical the cone would be easy to construct.
The curved surfaces would help reinforce any lateral loads being placed
upon it and the structure as a whole would be integral. Four 4Óx8Ó
inclined pylons were positioned at a 90 degree angle from each other
and bolted together with steel gusset plates. All other 2Óx6Ós were
placed off of these four main inclined beams. The small top and large
bottom makes for a naturally stable geometry instantly recognized
by the local building inspector. Nature knows the value of the conical
form and created the ocean barnacle in this form to resist and dissipate
constantly over-turning forces placed on it from buffeting waves.
In nature's environment the ratio of the weight of the barnacle to
the poundage of wave force placed upon it, is reasonably close to
the uplifting forces generated by an earthquake, hurricane or tornado.
Therefore, a conical form makes structural sense in this regard.
All structural members were laid out on a protractor grid from a
center point. Sectional sills of trapezoids were laid out along the
circular periphery to form the basis for raising the inclined beams
of the conical wall.
The difference in the existing house finished floor elevation and
the new ground level elevation is mitigated by a shallow set of steps
that lead from the laundry area to the shower, toilet and sink area.
Light from above bathes the space in a mysterious and reposeful way.
The spray-on finished appliquŽ of white paper and water-based glue
looks exactly like newly fallen snow on a miniature mountainscape
and the insulative and acoustic absorption exceeds 60 decibels. The
quietude inside the space approaches the religious. Visitors have
commented on its other-worldliness when walking through and seeing
the light bathing the space from above and the deep silence within
Outside a geometric bas-relief creates an intertwining of ocean
wave patterns and circular motifs. These were hand-formed with recycled
Styrofoam and stucco material. This ornament helps to carry through
the scale of the existing building while giving the new structure
a textural feature whose shadows move, appear and dissolve with the
Twelve finials rise at 30 degree angles to meet the sky. Tiny wires
of needle-like metal point upwards from this sealed wood limbs. These
were requested by the owner to prevent birds from sitting on the finials.
The exterior paint is a pearlescent pigment, mixed with white with
an iridescent sparkle and gold flakes combination that required one
week of trial and error before arriving at the right effect. The iridescent
reflectivity reflects the sun's rays away from the surface and helps
to make the interior cool.
The conical form also allows the sun to touch less surface area
when it is high in the sky during hot summer months. During low sun
angles in the winter months the sun captures more surface area creating
a uniform heating effect when it is most needed. This same solar design
orientation, with some modifications, is used by certain species of
termites presented earlier in the previous chapter. The entire structure
took 31/2 months to complete.