Innovation & Design

Venice Beach's Architectural Renaissance


Joshua Sale can still remember when the streets of his old neighborhood in Venice, California were lined with tiny 1920s cottages and prowled by gang members. He recalls hearing gunshots and dropping to the floor of the 800-square-foot bungalow he bought in 1974. "My neighbors were members of a gang called the V13s," he says. "Venice was a different place back then." Sale, who recently had his bungalow reconstructed by Johnston Marklee Architects after the home burnt down in a fire, also harkens back to a period of Venice's history when several prominent Los Angeles architects were coming into their own. His home which includes a 400-square-foot garage and studio known as the 2-4-6-8 Studio, designed by Morphosis in 1978 and undamaged by the subsequent fire shares a piece of that history.

"Thom Mayne and I were friends," says Sale of Morphosis's principal. "And because I needed more space, I asked him and Michael Rotundi to design a garage and studio. I didn't know anything about architecture, but when I saw that Thom and Michael kept bringing architects around to see the project, I realized my studio was something special."

Almost 30 years later, the neighborhood is now overrun with large modern homes that fill their sites to overflowing, and smartly dressed young couples pushing baby carriages populate the alleys. In the midst of all this, Sale's special studio, named for the dimensions of its four windows, is still a place that architects seek out as an example of the use of pure geometries and unexpected materials.

As is the case with many young architects in the beginnings of their careers, ancillary structures and renovations to a host house were the kind of projects that distinguished Los Angeles architects such as Thom Mayne, Michael Rotundi, Frank Israel, and Eric Owen Moss were doing in the late 70s. To rebuild the Sale House, architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee had to do the opposite: design a host structure that would respect the properties of the ancillary building. They approached the project like a chess game a turn to formulate a response to Morphosis's move, much like Morphosis had created a response to the original Craftsman home. "Thom had created so many drawings for the studio," says Lee. "We used one in particular as a guide, and designed the house to react to the geometries, use of color, and dimensions."

The result is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,600-square-foot home connected to the studio on the second floor. The proportions of the studio became the "negative" dimensions of the home's outdoor courtyard, and a "mass" as the second-floor master bedroom, taking a cue from the original Morphosis drawing that actually called for four identical rotated studios on the site (only one was ever built).

Anticipating the inevitable construction of oversized homes to either side of the house, Johnston and Lee positioned windows (all are either 2 by 2, 4 by 4, 6 by 6, or 8 by 8, like the studio), transparent walls, and the courtyard and roof deck to let the maximum amount of light penetrate the home's interior, while still maintaining privacy. and use the outside as additional living space.

Again responding to the studio, the architects chose the gray of a photographic gray card for the stucco exterior, while the interiors become volumes of color with paint and resins in shades of pink, turquoise, orange, and yellow.

When the home was completed Sale allowed Johnston Marklee to take the gallery/stage elements of the house a step further Johnston and Lee curated several art collaborations in the space, including sound sculpture, paintings, and photographs all related to and responding to the house. (Photographs from that series by Livia Corona can be viewed in the accompanying slide show.)

Although Sale lives in Colorado now, and rents the home with the idea that one day he'll put it on the market, something keeps him from doing just that. "It's not priced to sell," he says. He may well want to keep it. In 30 more years, this Venice home might have new lessons to teach a fresh crop of architects.


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