May 1, 2011
An Optimized Architecture
David Jameson tailors a glassy minimalist residence to a lovely—and tricky—woodland site.
Every architect knows that the first step to making a great building is finding a great client. In that respect, the Alexandria, Virginia–based architect David Jameson recently got very lucky. Not only did the owners of a gorgeous piece of woodland property in nearby Great Falls seek Jameson out; they were already such fans of his work that they kept a scrapbook of magazine clippings of his previous residences.
Clients with this kind of enthusiasm (not to mention primo property and the budget to match) are rare indeed. But though Jameson had carte blanche in Great Falls, he did not have a blank slate. A stream running through the site earned it county designation as a Resource Protected Area (RPA), which limited the scale of the architecture—essentially, the new construction could not exceed the footprint of the previous buildings, a pair of 1970s homes connected by a breeze-way. Jameson treated the limitation as an opportunity: “We changed the spatial experience and stretched the indoor and outdoor spaces,” he says.
On the two square footprints, Jameson placed a pair of simple rectangular volumes. A three-story cube houses a two-car garage, a master suite above that, and a media room and terrace on top. On the other footprint, Jameson wanted to stretch out horizontally, so he sought an exception from county officials. “We negotiated a deal that by not digging a new foundation—but instead creating a delicate incision into the earth—we could build over and past the RPA line,” he says. He gained a good 12 feet in the process, which became a double-height living room cantilevered out into the woods. Where the breezeway once stood, a glass foyer now links the main house and the tower.
Although Jameson favors sleek, high-end minimalism, he likes to incorporate mass-produced materials more often found in industrial applications. The Great Falls house includes glass sheets as railings, maple planks for a ziggurat-like box stairway, storefront glazing for nearly all the windows, and “sticks” of commercial-grade aluminum for mullions. “We designed a sophisticated building using unsophisticated parts,” Jameson says.
His other main goal was to position the windows to create the best possible views of the surrounding landscape. He named the house Graticule, after the network of latitude and longitude lines used for measurement on a map. “It’s an optimized architecture created specifically for the site,” he says. “Some apertures have more view, and some have less. How we stitched it into the site allows someone to see the landscape in a new way.”