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Solar Umbrella House

Venice, Calif.
Pugh + Scarpa

Pugh+ Scarpa layer the rich textures and hues of industrial-organic chic over Modernist bones at the energy-efficient Solar Umbrella house

By Deborah Snoonian, P.E.
  Click images to view larger
  Solar Umbrella House
  Photo © Marvin Rand
  Pugh + Scarpa
  Lawrence Scarpa & Angela Brooks
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The California firm of Pugh + Scarpa has built its reputation on the conviction that “sustainable design” should not be an oxymoron. Some of the firm’s past experiments—both environmentally responsive and aesthetically strong—have included turning active solar panels into facade elements and crushed soda cans into furniture. With the recent completion of Solar Umbrella House, two of the firm’s principals, Angela Brooks, AIA, and Lawrence Scarpa, AIA, have reached a milestone: Fully merging their life’s work and lifestyle, this married couple have now completed their own home with the same level of environmental awareness as that which guides their practice. In form, the house resembles its inspiration, Paul Rudolph’s 1953 Umbrella House in Sarasota, Florida, which originally featured a wooden trellis to shield the structure from scorching rays. In Venice, California, Brooks and Scarpa have united an existing house with an expansive addition, topped by a canopy that is both a sunshade and an energy-producing system. Modern, eclectic, and casually funky, Solar Umbrella is thoroughly Californian.

Like many homes on Venice’s typically compact parcels, this house began life as a single-story bungalow dating from the 1920s. Though the original 650-square-foot stucco structure offered only the essentials—a kitchen, small dining and living rooms, two bedrooms, and a bathroom—its siting on the north end of a 41-by-100-foot through lot left ample room for expansion to the south. Brooks and Scarpa bought the bungalow in 1997 and did enough renovations themselves to make it livable as they designed the addition. The through lot gave them the freedom to reorient the house, taking advantage of Southern California’s abundant sunlight. To the bungalow’s south end, they added an airy, two-story structure of tilt-up concrete, containing a living room, master suite, and combined bath/utility room. A translucent canopy of 89 grid-connected solar panels—the “solar umbrella”—wraps the addition’s roof and west elevation. This 4-kilowatt system generates nearly all the electricity the family uses. Without changing the bungalow radically, the architects removed its south wall, eliminated the living room, enlarged the kitchen and dining areas, and converted one bedroom into a study.

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