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Williams Addition
Berkeley, California USA






Location: Berkeley, California
Date: 1996
Cost: $25,000.00 including design, architect's fees, permits, engineering and construction
Square Footage: 150 Square Feet

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 methods.

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 the room

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 changing sunlight.

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.


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