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Monika Häfelfinger describes herself as a rational-minded architect. Her partner, Austin Kelly, says he is the opposite of rational. “Our backgrounds are Minimal versus Expressionist,” states Kelly. Häfelfinger, born in Switzerland, worked for Herzog & de Meuron; American-born Kelly has worked with Frank Gehry and Eric Owen Moss. After spending time in Europe, though, Kelly’s approach to architecture shifted. “Originally, my concept of architecture was all about expressionistic forms of the building and how it related to the city,” he explains. “But now Monika and I are like-minded architects in that we look at projects from all points of view.” In 2000, this pair created XTEN Architects in Los Angeles.

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vhouse
Los Angeles, Cal., 2002
Abutting a canyon hillside, the Vhouse is connected to the outdoors through a spacious courtyard. The undulating roof geometry responds to site conditions.

mhouse
Marina del Ray, Cal., 2003
What began as an addition of a studio to a bungalow became a much larger expansion that includes a roof deck, digital studio, new master bedroom, and study.

polyhouse
Venice, Cal., 2001
The use of polycarbonate panels in the extended living space creates different lighting effects on the material throughout the day. This plan takes advantage of house's location facing the Venice canals in one direction and a park in the other.

himmelrain
Sissach, Switzerland 2004
A housing development in Switzerland made of nine separate low-rise structures. The buildings will include zinc roofs, glazed mid-sections, and thick plaster bases. This strategy will seemingly minimize the scale and maintain the views.

Silverspur
Creating a new facade for a 1960's bank, the architects turn to the use of metallic PVC fabric mesh. To retain the three distinct sections of the building, the metallic mesh is used in a variety of methods and transparencies.

Palm Springs Modern
This 60,000 square foot boutique hotel will be a hybrid of hotels, motor inns, and compact living. The guest rooms will be one continuous surface and the spa, lobby, lounge will be ultra-modern spaces.

All images courtesy XTEN unless otherwise noted.

The first project on which Häfelfinger and Kelly collaborated was a residence in the Los Angeles area. “The owner held a minicompetition for young local architects,” says Kelly, “and we won with our design, Polyhouse.” Located on the edge of the Venice, California, canals, the house is sheathed mainly in polycarbonate panels and glass to take advantage of the adjoining canal and park. At different times of the day, the changing light gives the panels varying levels of translucency.

The Polyhouse is an example of an overriding theme in XTEN’s concept of design. “Synthetic is a word we find ourselves using a lot,” Kelly points out. “It comes from synthesis, from resolving the multiple constraints and requirements of a project through differentiated uses of one specific material and one highly articulated form.” So while the Polyhouse’s main building material is polycarbonate, another project, the vhouse, utilizes redwood throughout the exterior and interior, and their mhouse’s double-height studio’s main element is ribbed aluminum. This single massing and material strategy sets XTEN’s architecture apart from that of other young firms, which tend to use what Kelly calls a “collage approach.”

In 2002, XTEN established an associate office in Switzerland to more easily coordinate projects and competitions the team is involved with in the Basel area. One of these projects is himmelrain, a residential program that includes apartment buildings, courtyards, and walkways. The number of units required by the developers could easily have interfered with the scenic surroundings. XTEN was short-listed by these developers when they presented a plan that, instead of tall buildings, consisted of nine separate low-rise structures. Häfelfinger explains how they took into account European ways of living during the planning stage. “It was necessary to integrate handicap accessibility into the design because it’s not unusual for many generations to live together in Europe. An elder generation’s needs are a factor. And, unlike gated communities commonly found in the States, the grounds are open, and nonresidents can pass through easily. The patio doors of the ground-level apartments open up onto communal space and walkways. There aren’t any fences involved.”

With himmelrain soon breaking ground and 90 percent of the units already sold, XTEN is looking forward to working on other large-scale projects that will explore experimental work. These ventures include a 60,000-square-foot boutique hotel and the renovation of a 1960s-era bank building, both in the Los Angeles area. Kelly adds, “Like many of our projects, XTEN is very much a work in progress.”

By Randi Greenberg

 


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