Page H1 . 15 January 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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    Patterns of Home
    Pattern One — Inhabiting the Site :
    The Challenge of Sloping Sites

    ArchWeek Photo

    Each room of the Distler House opens out onto a sunny deck or terrace, inviting full use of the site.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston


    Houses should encourage use and appreciation of the outdoor surroundings. This requires the building to extend out into the site. Specifically, rooms should have windows and doors that open onto an adjacent outdoor space; there should be some protection over the door so it can remain open even during a brief shower; and decks and garden walls should give support and draw the residents outdoors.

    This is especially challenging on steeply sloping lots because there are no existing flat areas to move out into naturally. These places have to be created by a combination of decks and terraces.

    An Upslope Site

    After their home was destroyed in the Oakland/ Berkeley Hills firestorm of 1991, the Distlers asked us to help them design a new house for their upslope lot. Amazingly, much of the original terraced garden survived the fire, and linking the old garden to the new home was very important to the owners. The basic problem was finding a way to arrange the various indoor living levels so that they would have access to the existing outdoor spaces.

    By keeping the house to the northeast side of the lot, and by dividing the building into a number of gradually ascending levels, we were able to provide southwest-facing outdoor areas for each floor of the house as it stepped up the slope.

    ArchWeek Photo

    The house climbs the hill, with each interior space connecting to an adjacent outdoor space.
    Image: Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    This house is tied to its uphill site by a series of terraces, each connected to a different level of the house and to each other.
    Image: Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    The sheltered northern deck off the commons connects the downslope house strongly with its site. The cantilevered landing above leads to the front door.
    Photo: Charles Miller, courtesy Fine Homebuilding magazine

    ArchWeek Photo

    The main level of the downslope house begins (on the right) as a sheltered northern deck connected to the ground, moves to the major interior living spaces, and finally emerges as a south-facing deck that offers sun and view.
    Image: Taunton Press

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    The various terraces were then linked to each other by outdoor stairs. Locating the entry on the northeast side of the house helped preserve the privacy of all these outdoor areas.

    A Downslope Site

    Downslope lots present a similar site challenge of creating a series of flat levels for outdoor living. In our design for another residence in the Oakland/ Berkeley Hills, the main level is well above ground, but because it is extended back to meet the slope, it reconnects to the earth.

    And in the opposite direction, the main level reaches out to create a spectacular viewing deck, high above the ground, in full south sun. The result is that all the rooms on the main level kitchen, dining room, living room, and the office are closely connected to flat outdoor spaces.



    Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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