Interview with Geoffrey Baker

October 1993/March 1997




Venice House, Los Angeles, California, 1991.

GHB: One of the problems I’ve had with Modernism has been the notion of universality and standardisation and these ideas of the global village which may be true technologically. We all have televisions, but it seems to me that all places are not only different but uniquely different, and when I was at Laramie, moving as I did from Las Vegas, and having come from New Orleans, these differences are so pronounced. In Laramie, it was the intense cold that was already beginning to make its presence felt. The winter was starting. There was a wonderful golden fall and one could tell this place was going to be very, very cold. So there is this great difference between building there and building anywhere else. What you’ve said about the archival mountain and its particular quality to enclose and shelter and give views out, just seems so necessary in Wyoming.

I was wondering how your architecture would respond to that different situation and I notice, too, that you’ve responded differently on the boardwalk at Venice Beach. When one thinks of your earlier houses that are in the desert, that boardwalk is very different and you’ve produced a totally different solution. So I’m imagining, and I guess that it’s true, that you seize on what you believe to be important. You have mentioned how the house ‘affirms mythic connections to sea and geologic past’. Maybe you’d like to say something about that Venice House?

AP: That’s a good contrast to Wyoming: it deals with the organization of apertures in a really different way since it was a 30-by-90-foot linear site, with buildings on either side. I thought the focus to the sea was a much more critical investigation than simply making a glass end wall, so the concrete armature that evolved seizes and frames different views. The sequence of entry is developed in a highly particularised way.

I thought the idea of a processional context – the idea of collapsing space on entering the house – was a really critical beginning. That works by having a view ray that is perspectively reversed: a black-granite slab ‘runway’ that widens as it moves from entry towards the sea. Sectionally the ceiling does the same, it goes from a lower ceiling to a higher ceiling, so the perspective is cancelled out to some extent and the visual contact with the sea, subliminally perhaps, is brought closer. Whether that works for everyone or not I don’t know. I was conscious of that notion of spatial collapse. The armature that orders all the particularised view releases is poured concrete.

The foreground viewed from the sea is a black-granite piece that is covered with a film of recirculating water. This glistening granite operates within the perspective reversal that I mentioned, the granite runway widens towards the sea from the entry, then connects with the shimmering water-covered granite to the sea beyond, so there’s a blurring then of sea, sky, water and polished granite. There’s a yearning for the sea that begins to short circuit any ordinarily imagined connection to it.

The materials are timeless materials: stone, concrete. The one-ton pivot piece, the glazed pivot, which when open allows the rush of the sea wind, the smell of the sea, the sound of the sea, to enter the house, is powder-coated red, the colour of the Japanese flag. I was thinking about a morning I spent in Japan near Ise, but on the shore. I was in the land of the rising sun, watching it happen, thinking of the ritual importance of the sunrise in Japan. The colour of that window is a homage to that culture. Other apertures that are seized by the armature of concrete include the 7-foot-high and _-inch-wide aperture that is cast in place, in glass a foot deep, which emanates a greenish glow. It is optically correct when one looks closely through it. So we can have another hidden, voyeuristic positioning, with respect to the view, with respect to the passer-by. As a time machine, the glass tracks the sun on the western quadrant and kaleidoscopically spins the rays as the surfaces act as a mirror, with rebound reflections and V-shaped green rays tracking across the room, or a single ray travelling over your body up to the ceiling or to the other end of the house. There’s a sense of time in motion there, heightened beyond the normal sense of the sun moving past a window. There are other framing moves, and not all of them have to do with glazed areas, they have also to do with terraces framing the view of sea and sky, isolating relationships between the sea and sky or just the sky. So it’s a kind of observatory. I always make the point though, that my houses that have a ritualistic line are also great for partying. It’s one and the same. Celebrations have often occurred in ritualistic spaces.

At Venice Beach I wanted to work with a deeper personal understanding of Los Angeles than its disposability, its ephemera, and LA’s trying one set of architectural clothing on for size for a while, shedding it, trying on another for size, shedding it. I think that’s all great, but I wanted the house to be a stabilising moment in that flux. It does acknowledge Los Angeles in the fact that the garage door is a mirror, and one can primp oneself in the car and take a look in the mirror and see how the whole thing looks each time.