Sunday, October 24, 2010

Underhill House : By Ming Lee, Architect

Orinda, Calif.,United States
Ming Lee, Architect

Post By:Kitticoon Poopong
Photo © Carl Hampson & Amey Bhan
While building this spec house, architect Ming Lee discovered the only thing stricter than the confines of his narrow, hillside site in Orinda, Calif. were the regulations for building projects in the area. In an area known less for its modern residences and more for its Mediterranean-inspired ranch homes, Lee had an uphill battle with the community board. “It was a learning experience,” says the architect, “From the design review to board hearings with watchful neighbors, I dealt with all of the idiosyncrasies of the design process.” The
overriding concern of neighbors was to deter any structure that would project out from the hill. A city ordinance states that one cannot build on top of a first story with a downhill lot. And yet another consideration in Lee’s residential design was the surrounding oak trees. For this, Lee had to employ an arborist to satisfy the city’s strict ecological guidelines.
Photo © Carl Hampson & Amey Bhan
The resulting design is a 1,700 square-foot residence consisting of two staggered and overlapped rectangles placed vertically down the hill slope. To keep the profile of the rest of the house to a minimum, excavation was needed. “For it to blend in, half the house is pushed into the hill,” explains Lee. Another method Lee used to soften the profile of the residence was to design the house stepping down the hillside in three levels. Due to the city’s regulations, the first level built on the hilltop is composed of only the entrance and the 400 square-foot garage. The second floor program includes the public spaces—a kitchen/dining area as well as the main living space. The third floor is where the three bedrooms and the more utilitarian spaces of the home are located.
Photo © Carl Hampson & Amey Bhan 
In this “real life educational process,” Lee explains that there was a definite upswing to being his own client. “I was able to revise the design as I went along, “says Lee, “ as you frame out the house you see things a lot differently than in a rendering.” For instance, Lee added last minute changes to the creation of the public living spaces. This largely glass-enclosed area of the residence keeps its transparency through the architect’s clever use of an open riser staircase with thin cable rails and glass guardrails. To differentiate the dining room from the living room without creating dividing walls, the architect subtly raised the living-room ceiling to create continuous yet unique spaces. The architect notes that the attached balcony at this level creates an outdoor living room as well as another 400 square feet of space. 
Photo © Carl Hampson & Amey Bhan
In keeping with the spirit of a modern home, Lee devised as few interior partitions with the house as possible. However, even the necessary partitions, such as those that separate bedrooms, are not structural. “I kept the entire framing to the house’s exterior,” the architect explains, “While everything is kept structural on the outside it leaves the option open for easy remodeling in the future.” Since a young family purchased the residence, this particular feature could become very useful. 
Photo © Carl Hampson & Amey Bhan
First Floor
Second Floor 
Third Floor

Gross square footage:
1,800 ft. sq.  

the People
Ming Lee, Architect
725 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94706
510.527.6890 fax
ESI Engineers
General contractor
Murphy Construction, Relevate Inc.
Carl Hampson, Amey Bhan

the Products
Structural system
Pier and Grade Beam Foundation, Wood-framing
Paramount Aluminum www.paramountwindow.com
Wood doors:
Allwood doors allwooddoors.com
Sliding doors:
Paramount Aluminum www.paramountwindow.com
Interior finishes
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Ikea www.ikea.com
Special surfacing:
Volcano Drywall
Floor and wall tile:
Bamboo Floor, carbonized
Toto www.totousa.com
Sanijet www.sanijet.com
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