"THE HOUSES look like the ones we drew as a child. If you painted them green, they could be the houses in the Monopoly set."
That's the way architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen describes the two houses he designed that have just won awards: the Washington house for the American Institute for Architects, Washington Metropolitan Chapter; the Selinsgrove, Pa., house for Architectural Record magazine.
The floor plans of Jacobsen's pavilion houses may well be pioneering a new type of house for 1980s. They answer the needs of two new (or rather born again) trends that may be forced upon us by high housing costs and high transportation costs. More generations will be living together. More people will be working at home. These two houses were planned for two families that include artists working at home, and they are ideal for this use.
Jacobsen of Georgetown has recently acquired some attention by designing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' house at Martha's Vineyard at less than its budget. But you don't have to be as rich as Onassis to live in a Jacobsen house, as Washingtonians are well aware. One of the award houses is of modest size. All his houses are full of good workable ideas, some of them costing more thought than money, most worth stealing and taking home.
In Washington, it isn't possible to have a Georgetown house tour without a Jacobsen house. And Architectural record Magazine has a hard time putting out its well-respected Record Houses without including a Jacobsen house. He's won 15 Record awards, 10 more than the next fellow. Not to mention four AIA honor awards.
Jacobsen can't remember just how many houses he's worked on. When he first started, he did a great many remodelings and additions -- a bath and a bedroom here and a living room there. He figures he must have had somewhere around 700 clients.
The two winning houses have much in common, belonging to the same stage of the architect's development and the architectural climate of the times. As Jacobsen said, they look like houses -- "not pickle factories."
Actually, they both look like more than one house. For years, Jacobsen has played with the idea of single houses made to look like multiple houses. No doubt it's because he was frightened by Georgetown row houses at an early age. Both winning houses have multiple, steep-pitched roofs. Both are painted white on the outside, recently as standard a house color among advanced architects as it used to be among plain folk.
(Jacobsen may be moving out of the white-house period. His new house for Onassis is wood shingle, though it still has a steep roof. And a mile of driveway. A recent Connecticut house of his also of natural wood, but that's because the clients and their many children all lined themselves up on the other side of the table against painting it white.)
Both houses of the new award winners were designed for women artists and their husbands.
The smaller house (1,980 square feet) is in Washington, in the Palisades section of town, on a street where, as Jacobsen says, "every architect in town has dropped a house. And they all dropped the dirt from the construction on this funny triangular site, the last one open on the street."
The irregular site falls off precipitately on one side and has a 34-foot grade change. Even so, the owners, an older couple, wanted a one-story house.
Jacobsen used decks to level off the site. A deck at the front of the house welcomes guests with potted plants and not so incidently helps them shake off the the snow/dirt of the street. Triangular gables of glass give a treetop view and lighten the interior. In photographs, these triangles read as black, a geometric play against the black roofs.
From the front, you see what appear to be four small houses, each one peeking out behind the other. The unit at the street line, the wife's well-lit painting studio (sometimes doubling as guest bedroom and bath) is perfectly blank, turning its head determinedly away from the street. The next one, the kitchen unit, has a wonderful peer-out window, a marvelous bay made of a seamless Plexiglas bubble, that gives fair warning of guests walking down the wood deck. The woman of the house has hung plants in the window to give herself some place to dodge the people who come to admire the house from the street.
The glass is oriented to the southeast, the back side where the ground drops steeply off, so that the nearby houses don't intrude into the view. Here the other wide deck extends the house's living space. Jacobsen's clever planning means that when you stand on the deck, you see tree tops instead of faces peerfing from behind their lace curtains.
Coming into the entry, the studio and kitchen are to your right, the dining room straight ahead. Next the house's gallery or pathway leads by the pleasant living room with a fireplace. The final double cube is a library which serves as the master bedroom's sitting room.
The wood frame house is covered with exterior grade Duraphy, site-scored. Heating and cooling equipment and storage are in the basement, with doors there. They can also be reached, if a bit unhandily, through a counter-weighted trap door in the living room floor.
The house in Selinsgrove, Pa., carries even further the idea of little houses making a big one. The street (north) side of the house is a white wall opened through a triangular gable in each unit's roof except over the door, where the glass triangles are doubled underneath the chimneys (rather like rabbit ears). The entry way is set back into the wall and composed of narrow slits.
The size of the house/studio, Jacobsen said, compared with the "smaller scale, siting and design of the neighboring house presented serious problems of continuity and good manners." This he said, suggested the device of the separate roofs to break up the mass and suggest a more modest scale.
"I like to think it looks like little houses and addressing themselves to a garden fence," said Jacobsen.To Architectural Record, he said that he thought of the "broad planes of wall and sloping ceiling as inside surfaces of origami, and therefore as folds in a continous surface rather than as planes intersecting and ending at seams."
The long street wall is one side of the gallery which extends the length of the house, and serves as the street for the four gabled pavilions (rooms) opening off it. Links between the galbled pavilions are flat-roofed. In between the houses are three courtyards. The two ends units extend even further out. The south walls are mostly glass. (The one wall that is solid except for a Plexigals bay comes as a surprise.) The glass does not seem to be adequately protected against the sun by overhangs. However all the glazing, including the skylight, is insulated gray tinged glass which helps reduce heat loss. The outside is vertical wood siding painted white with a black asphalt shingle roof.
In all, the house has 5,500 square feet of which only 2,800 is house. The rest is studio and workshop space for the artist. One wing is a dramatic two-story-high painting studio with a staircase to the lower level for the artist's lithography, print, etching and photography studio and storage.
On the downhill side, a huge deck unifies the pavilions. The swimming pool is set into this deck, as well as a circular stair going to the lower level. The long gallery, floored with stone, serves as display room for the artist and her collection. Lighting is arranged to spot the paintings at night.
You come into the house through the gallery. If you're company you proceed straight ahead to the living room or the sitting area on the deck. On one side of the living room is a courtyard, separating it from the bedroom wing. A small library serves two bedrooms and three baths.
If you turn left at the living room, you pass another court before reaching the dining room with its view of the pool. Next is the kitchen with a small breakfast area intruding into the gallery at the third court.
"Record Houses of 1980," published by McGraw-Hill, includes this house, one by Arthur Cotton Moore of Georgetown and 22 others.