Sited on 4.5 acres on the South Fork of the American River, overlooking one of the best kayak runs in Northern California, this 3,745 sq. ft. house is for an avid kayaker and his wife. Several years ago, the owners decided to sell their suburban tract home and move to the country to live on the river. They chose Lotus because it is arguably Northern California's kayaking center, located at the both the end and start of two of the state's best runs. The project design arose from an intersection of this spectacular site and the clients' own specific interests.

The house is built as close to the river as code allows (5' above the 100-year floodline). Because the lot is extremely deep and narrow, this siting effectively splits the lot into two landscapes with very different characters – both in terms of terrain and public/private divisions. On the river side, there is a dramatic slope down to the water and back up the foothills across river. The river provides an endless tableau of kayakers and rafters drifting past, giving this side of the site an extremely public aspect. Away from the river, the site is entirely private, with a level meadow extending several miles to the start of the foothills.

The basic project diagram associates different geometries with the two sides of the site. Away from the river the house geometry is focused internally. The orthogonal L-shaped plan creates an enclosed rectangular courtyard with an arcade facing the distant foothill view, lending a more intimate, calm reflectiveness to the private side of the house. Towards the river, the house is focused externally, employing a more jaunty geometry oriented towards two existing site features: the rapids and the kayak launch. Two double-height rooms are (25' and 35' high) are angled square to these view targets. Internally the these two view-rooms disrupt and distort the regular geometry along the transition line between the two different sides of the site.

In addition to its basic orientation towards the river, several specific details emphasize the kayak theme of the house. First, the garage door is painted blue to match the owner's favorite kayak. Second, at the entry hall six kayaks hang using off-the-shelf boat hardware. Finally, the ground floor bathroom is configured for post kayak clean-up; it is an open stone shell with wetsuit hooks along each wall.

The owners wanted their house to be built to last 100+ years and to adjust to their needs as they themselves age . This meant a dramatic deviation from typical regional construction techniques, which tend towards conventional wood framing. Instead, the house design employs construction techniques more typically associated with non-residential applications. Structurally, the house is extremely robust: a steel framework integrated with selected concrete block walls supports exposed metal decking and a metal roof. Interior finishes are similarly durable. The ground floor of the house is entirely handicap accessible, while the lighting system anticipates the inevitable deterioration of functional vision which accompanies aging by accommodating a 400% increase in intensity from standard illumination.

LOCATION: Lotus, California

PROGRAM: 3,200 sf house

AWARDS: AIA Central Valley, 2006 Architecture Citation

E. Cullerton and M. Galindo (eds.), Young Architects Americas, Daab, Cologne, 2007, pp. 258-263 (various projects)

Contractor, Louis Debret
Structural, Carlton Engineering