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Solution of the Month

It’s a Wrap: A second skin improves a Brentwood home’s performance, and its design cred.

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects
September 2010

By David Sokol

Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA, had to have a frank conversation with Sascha Jovanovic. The dental surgeon wanted to expand the banal A-frame home he had purchased in the Crestwood Hills section of Los Angeles, “but the actual foundation costs of building on hillsides in earthquake territory is prohibitively expensive,” O’Herlihy remembers advising. To treat the existing building as a teardown would run as much as $400,000 for foundation work alone, so for the sake of affordability, architect and client decided to use what they had while “giving it a new voice.” 

Sascha Jovanovic's Residence
Photo courtesy Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects
Sascha Jovanovic's Residence

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Recycling the house meant transforming an old carport into an interior entry, plus adding decks as well as a new volume containing a two-car garage and guest room. White is the signature color of this extensive renovation. Yet, whereas the white interior provides a backdrop for Jovanovic’s souvenirs from Bali and Burma, the Alabama-made polyester mesh cladding the exterior is the star of its own show.

Although this PVC-coated fabric has been used for decades as a component of patio furniture and sunscreens, it never had been interpreted at an architectural scale. For Jovanovic’s redo, O’Herlihy mounted 2-inch-diameter tubular steel frames—powder-coated white and stretched with the mesh—onto the original stucco house.

“If we are going to use a material, we do some research to make sure it can accomplish something,” O’Herlihy says of this unusual application. “Not only does it shade and cool the building, but it also reflects the light. Visually speaking, it enhances the building and is architecturally inventive. So we’re combining performance and aesthetics.” The second skin hems closely to the circa-1970 house, pulling away at balconies and outdoor walkways to form their railings. “It’s a way of connecting all these different areas,” O’Herlihy observes, also noting that voids in the fabric guarantee certain views and provide formal balance for the composition.

The reflective shade screen amplifies the project’s other passive-design attributes, such as cross-ventilation. Indeed, although Jovanovic’s house now measures 3,700 square feet, his utility bills have gone down. “Architects are looking at other types of skins that are profoundly provocative,” O’Herlihy says. “This is something doable. More than anything we try to find something that is somewhat ordinary, but place it in another condition.”

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