The prospect of making a bold architectural statement and a few bucks to boot motivated architects Robert Schwartz and Robert Feild to buy a piece of rock -- a 2 1/2-acre knoll overlooking Rock Creek Park -- in the hope of designing and building a collection of nine dramatic homes.

The vision was an exciting one, but like so many architectural dreams (about half of everything designed by architects is never built), it faded rapidly when faced with the marketplace.

The story of how this nine-home vision by two architects turned into a hilltop with six houses designed by four architects is a tale that entwines real estate practices, local legislation, the demands of business partnerships, the complexities of architecture and the sad state of the economy.

"I suppose if we had been able to see into the future," muses Bob Feild, who now works out of Baltimore, "we would have gone about things differently."

The originial plan of the two architect developers was to put six units at the top of the hill around a shared meadow. The field was to be surrounded by a wooden walkway that led to a bridge. Residents would cross the bridge, then take an elevator to a parking pad below, where there were three more units. The two men wanted their plan to separate people from their cars, to create an environment much like that in a yacht moored at a pier. And the residents would have to accept ferrhing things from their autos on a dolly.

They tried desperately to get their elevator access idea backed by a number of Washington banks. "No one wanted to go near that scheme we couldn't sell it even though similar things have been done in California, just not in this market," recalls Schwarta.

When the two men found they could not get support for their initial design, they abandoned it and decided on a concept that included seven homes, connected by a winding road a shared driveway that curls up from Klingle Road. All the houses were to rest against the hillside facing south. "One of the issues we had to address," recalls Field, "was where was this place since there were no real neighbors? We decided to relate it to Cleveland Park and used many of the homes on Newark Street as inspiration." And so the post-modernist wooden structures began to take shape.

Schwartz and Feild designed and began to build on the hill's incline. Their first three homes were done "on spec (without a buyer to specify individual needs)." Each house is barely visible from the street, except in winter. The roof lines were borrowed from the gabled roofs of Cleveland Park; the fan windows, porch entries and shake siding were inspired by the same neighborhood. Inside, however, they tired to marry the houses to the hillside, to make every widow frame a view, to take advantage of the fact that these were cliffhanging, multileveled homes. The interior of each house, the first by Field, the next two by Schwartz, combines wide open spaces with walkout balconiles and terraces. Bedrooms for children or guests are downstairs, below the living room and dining areas. There are loft spaces, soaring ceilings, in the main section, and lots of south facing picture windows.

"It's interesting that what we have designed is in a way paradox," says Bob Field. "The entrances from the access road do not have the grandness of scale that one sees from Klingle Road. In a sense, we have houses with two fronts and no real back; each makes a statement to the street."

The three houses are set into a hillside, cheek by jowl. Only the sides, set close to one another, define the properties. The architects avoided having windows overlooking another neighbor's window. So although the houses are only eight feet apart, there is a sense of privacy. The original plan called for formal gardens to better separate the homes, but only one homeowner executed that plan.

Once the three houses were completed, another chapter was added to the hilltop odyssey. The joint venture between the two architects and a builder fell apart, interest rates began to soar, and it was clear that to make money on the project, they were going to have to reduce the size of lots and sell off the remaining four, hoping that the new architects who would become involved would respect the feeling established by the first three homes.

The resulting house designs start as the bend in the road, and signal a dramatic change in the vision of the development. At the turn in the road appears a flat-roofed, crudely finished series of boxes that hand off the hillside; a cedar clad terraced structure with a sloping roof commands the hilltop. Beside it an underground hosue is planned, distinguished only by a pop-up living room and terrace and a few dramatic pylons rising from the earth.

Schwartz was asked by the mountain-climbing bachelor who bought the cliffhangar at the bend in the road to design a budget house. The result is a 2,700 square foot house that thanks to a puzzleing ruling by the Fine Arts Commission, has a flat, rather than a sloped, natural-looking shake like roof.

What does the Fine Arts Commission have to do with Klingle Road? Since the whole development borders on public land, the commission must approve all plans. The original plan for this fourth house called for a sloped roof with a simulated slate or simulated cedar shakes. Ruling that nothing but natural shakes would do, the commission, acting on behalf of the public, turned around and approved an alternate plan with a flat roof. And while the interior spaces are both imaginative and clever, the facade is a plywood-clad structure onto which the architect has designed a decorative lattice that will be colored gray and will highlight entrances.

The structure, still being built, literally hangs off the side of the hill. Much of the $65-a square foot construction costs went into the piling supporting it. At the outer edge of the living room and dining room, the house is 20 feet from the ground. To reach the front door, one walks across a moatlike bridge. The house is well insulated. Windows look out over Porter Street, and large decks over the living room and garage increase the usable space. Built in three sections, the house is designed so that whole areas can be closed off, including their heating and air conditioning.

Energy self-sufficiency was a concern of all of the architects, but the second house built after the turn in the road was designed by University of Maryland professor Bill Bechhoefer, a specialist in passive solar techniques. Bechhoefer found a sympathetic client in his brother and sister in-law, Charles and Ina Bechhoeofer. The south facing house designed by the architect is superinsulated and clad in cedar shakes. Because the front door is at the back, Bechhoefer covered the entry area in cedar a wood he carried into the interior greenhouse area that serves both as a spot for plants and as a passive solar heat trap. Across the south wall of the house are large insulated windows, with a two-foot-wide tiled space for plants that also provides a boost to the heating system. Behind the cedar wall are convector vents. Cool air is drawn by fans across the room; it then rises in tubes, and in winter the warmed air is brought back into the main room through a register at the top. The fan in the livingroom and off the kitchen (where there is a walk-in greenhouse) is thermostatically controlled. In the kitchen, the fan has a continously variable speed and will reverse to move hot air out or warm air in, depending on the thermostat setting.

The Bechhoefers don't have to worry about mowing the front lawn because the architects, along with landscape designer Ron Stup, devised a scheme of terraces that will alternate plantings and vegetable gardens that the Bechhoefers can work in at waist height. Says the architect of his design, "It's my ideal solar house nothing looks solar. Even the heat pump is hidden."

The original plan of the two architect-developers was to put six units at the top of the hill around a shared meadow. The field was to be surrounded by a wooden walkway that led to a bridge. Residents would corss tthebridge, then take an elevator to a parking pad below, where there were three more units. The two men wanted their plan ttoo separate people from their cars, tto create an environment much like that in a yacht moored at a pier. And the residents would have to accept ferrying things from their autos on a dolly.

They tried desperately to get ttheir elevator acces idea backed by a number of Washington banks. "No one wanted to go near that scheme . . . we couldn't sell it even though similar things have been done in California, just not in this market," recalls Schwartz.

When the two men found they could not get support for their initial design, ttheeyy abandoned it and decided on a concept that included seven homes, connected by a winding road -- an shard driveway -- that curls up ffrom Klingle Road. All the houses were to rest against the hillside facing south. "One of the issues we had to address," recalls Feild, "was where was this place since there were no real neighbors? We decided to relate it to Cleveland Park and used many of the homes on newark Street as inspiration." And so thhthepost-modernist wooden structures began to take shape.

Schwartz and Feild designed and began to build on the hill's incline. Their first three homes were done "on apec without a buyer to apecify individual needs. ." Each house is barely visible from the street, except in winter. The roof lines were borrowed from the gabled roofs of Cleveland Park; the fan windows, porch entries and shake siding were inspired by the same neighborhood. Inside, however, they tried to marry thhe houses to the hillside, to make every window frame a view, to take advantage of the fact that these were cliffhanging, multileveled homes. The interior of each house, tthe first by Feild, the next two by Schwartz, combines wide open spaces with walkout balconies and terraces. Bedrooms for children or guests are downstairs, below th living room and dining areas. There are loft spaces, sssoaring ceilings in ttheemain ssection, and lots of south-facing picture windows.

"Its interesting tyhat what we have designed is in a way a paradox," says Bob Feild. "The entrances from the access road do not have the grandness of scale that one sees from Klingle Road. In a sense, we have houses with two fronts and no real back; each makes a statement to the street."

The three houses are set into the hillside, cheek by jowl. Only the sides, set close to one another, ddefine the properties. The architects avoided having windows overlooking another neighbor's window. So although the houses are only eight feet apart, there is a sense of privacy. The original plan called for formal gardent to better separate the homes, but only one homeowner executed that plan.

Once the tree houses were completed, another chapter was added to thhhe hilltop odyssey. The joint venture between the two architects and a builder fell apart, interest rates began to soar, and it was clear tthat to make money on the project, they were going to have to reduce the size of lots and sell off the remaining four, hoping that thhhe new architects who wwould become involved would respect tthefeeling established by the first three homes.

The resulting house designs start at the bend in tthe road, and signal a dramatic change in thhe vision fo the development. At the turn in tthee road appears a faltroofed, crudely finished series of boxes that hang off the hillside; a cedarclad terraced structure with a sloping roof commands the hilltop. Beside it an underground house is planned, distinguished only by a pop-up living room and terrace and a few dramatic pylons rising from the earth.

Schwartz ws asked by the mountain-climbing bachelor who bought the cliffhanger at the bend in the road to design a budget house. The result is a 2,700-square-foot house that thanks to a puzzling ruling by tyhe Fine Arts Commission, has a falt, rather than a sloped, natural-looking shake-like roof.

What does the Fine Arts Commission have to do with Klingle Road? Since the whole development borders on public land, the commission must approve all plans. The original plan for this fourth house called for a sloped roof with a simmulated slate or simulated cedar shakes. Ruling that nothing but natural shakes would do, thhe commission, acting on behalf of the public, turned around and approved an alternate plan with a falt roof. And while the interior spaces are both imaginative and clever, the facade is a plywood-clad structure onto which thhe architect has designed a decorative lattice that will be colored gray and will highlight entrances.

The structure, still being built, literally hangs off the side of the hill. Much of the $65-a-square-foot construction costs went into the pilings supprting it. At the outer edge of the living room and dining room, the house is 20 feet from tthground. To reach the fromt door, one walks across a moat-like bridge. The house is well insulated. Windows look out over Porter Street, and large decks over the living room and garage increase the usuable space. Built in three sections, the house is designed so that whole areas can be closed off, including their heating and air conditioning.

Energy selfsufficiency was a concern of all of the architects, but the second house built after the turn in the road was designed by University of Maryland professor Bill Bechhoefer, a specialist in pasive solar techniques. Bechhoefer found a sympathetic client in his brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Ina Bechhoefer. The south-facing house designed by the architect is superinsulated and clad in cedar shakes. Because the fromt door is at the back, Bechhoefer covered the entry area in cedar, a wood he carried into thhe interior greenhouse area that serves both as a spot for plants and as a passive solar heat trap. Across the south wall of the the house are large insulated windows, with a two-foot-wide tiled space for plants that also provides a boost to the heating system. Behing the cedar wall are convector vents. Cool air is drawn by fans across the room; it then rises in tubes, and in winter the warmed air is brought back into the main room through a register at the top. The fan in the living room and off the kitchen (where there is a walk-in greenhouse) is thermostatically controlled. In the kitchen, the fan has a continously variable speed and will reverse to move hot air out or warm air in, depending on the thermostat setting.

The most dramatic home on Klingle Road will barely be visible when completed. Hidden in a meadow, the undergroung structure has been designed with a host of energy-saving devices to make the 1,500 square foot pied-a-terre of Zeke harris and Pat Aikey one of the city's more unusual houses. Designed by Ward Bucher, the house is set on a tiny plot next tto the Bechhoefer house. Needless to say, the neighbors won't be seeing much of the couple, as only a few windows and some pilings will jut out of the hillside. The house has a two-level living room, a kitchen, dining area and greenhouse, two bedrooms, a hot-tub room, and a bath. Most of the roof of the concrete structure will be covered with two feet of topsoil. A domed skylight will bathe the center section with light, and planters will extend from three sides to establish a triangular theme. In plan the house is a one-story rambler with a two-story living room. It's clear that the challenge of creating a livable underground space is what makes this place unusual.

Architect Bucher is so excited by the design that he's submitting it to a national competition. Harris and Aikey can't wait to get ttheir hands into tthe dirt, as they plan to build it themselves, starting this fall. At the moment, they await final approval of their plans for their building permit, now hung up on a small technicality: local code says they are building a basement, and you can't live in a basement unless you have at least seven-foot-high ceilings and are four feet above ground level. Architect Bucher hasn't figured out how to get around this glitch, but he is confident that the officials in tthe District can be shown tthat the Harris-Aikey housw is not a basement. Right now, thhe couple is looking forward to subterranean life.

Thus ends -- for now -- the odyssey of ths six houses. But will the local government let the underground house be built? Will the cliffhanger hang together with Mother Nature? And what about that seventh lot, still up for grabs. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of the houses on the hilltop. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, It started on the Klingle Road cliff as one concept by two architects for nine homes. But what actually sprouted on the knoll overlooking the park is quite different from the original scheme. In the foreground is a house designed by Bob Feild, one of the original architects. The background home is the creation of Bill Bechhoefer, a specialist in passive solar techniques.

Since the Klingle Road site was a bit like a island in the city, the original architects tried to pick up elements of teh nearby Cleveland Park neighborhood in their designs. Roof lines were borrowed from gabled roofs on Neward Street; fan windows, porch entries and shake siding were also incorporated into the new homes. But the cliffhangers have their own style, too: the gray painted home, ownned by Tetsuo and Louise Okada, hugs the hillside and juts out at five different levels. PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARGARET THOMAS; Picture 3, Another of the original architects' design is the Halstead home. Their kitchen ends in a step-down family area that has an adjoining deck where the family often enjoys breakfast or lunch; Picture 4, Marjorie Halstead sits on another deck that overlooks Rock Creek Park. She and her husband plan to build yet another deck with a hot tub off the front of the house to link the dining and living room areas together and to take advantage of the marvelous view; Picture 5, The Okada living room adjoins the deck that is seen on the front cover. The living room is a step down from that space. Off the living room to the left are a dining area, which is surrounded by a six-foot-high wall, and a greenhouse. Above the living room is a small balcony that is part of Louise Okada's sewing room. Bedrooms in the multilevel home are located both below and above the main living area; an extraordinary tub-for-two is located in the master bedroom; Illustration 1, A floor plan of the Klingle cliffhanger house shows the interlocking rectangles that define the main floor. Two bedrooms are tucked below the garage; the master bedroom suite sits on top of the main section of the house. The lower drawing, a cross section of the living room looking out, illustrates the pilings that support the house. BY MARK McINTURFF; Illustration 2, In the underground house, desined by architect Ward Bucher, the terraces, south-facing windows and rising pylons will be visible from the access road. And beneath will sit a 1,500-square-foot brightly lit home. BY MARK McINTURFF; Illustration 3, Above, the architectural dream that never came true on Klingle Road. The three lower houses connect by a hillside elevator to six upper sites, which in the original scheme were unreachable by car. BY MARK McINTURFF