When I attended the opening of Sculpture, Pleasing Curves, Charlie Kaplan's exhibit at PYO Gallery in Los Angeles, I realized the full intensity of my collaboration as an architect with this talented artist. The exhibit is a culmination of Charlie's 40-year journey as a sculptor of marble. And the house I designed for him was just as creative.
I designed a new home for Kaplan and his wife Jo Ann in Santa Monica that is aesthetically and functionally sculptural. The home includes a marble sculpting studio and is always aware of the artworks on display.
My collaboration with Kaplan was and is an enviable model. The core of our successful collaboration rests in the fact that Charlie Kaplan is absolutely passionate and deeply knowing about any and all things to do with marble. From mining, to veining, to how many varieties of onyx or marble are available in Pietrasanta and Carrara, Kaplan's fix lies in his deep knowledge of the material and technical qualities of the marble and, most importantly, his potent sculptural vision and skill.
From the beginning of our collaboration, he reveled in detail and techne: the art of craft and the mechanics of making. He the sculptor, and his wife the gardener and I began our work together many years ago.
Our collaboration per se, took about 12 years. Seven years in design and five years in construction. This long, long schedule is unique, by far, in my career. I had no previous experience of such a long "design conversation."
Our extraordinary, unprecedented collaboration culminated in the completion of a home with an industrial sector. Kaplan's sculpture studio and workshop with storage for his historic hand tools and Jo Ann's farm, an all year operational edible garden that seriously explores the cultivation, maintenance, protection and consumption of a huge range of vegetables and fruits.
What initially began as a dining room addition to an existing home became a completely new, modern Southern California agrarian villa. In the years of the design collaboration, I virtually never showed up to a meeting without a large model in tow. Every meeting, often accompanied by a gracious cooked meal, was like an ongoing seminar.
Kaplan, the sculptural sensualist, always claimed lack of visual understanding, huge, 18' long models and full scale mock ups notwithstanding. He opined, backed off and trusted.
Jo Ann modestly claimed only a casual interest in modernism, with an aversion to its oft coldness. She described her sensibility as "contemporary." Turns out that she is a hardcore minimalist. Her opinions are strong, her tough and clear ideas drove the project.
The Sculpture Studio in the home is a study in hyper-functionality and place making. Emblematically, it defines the cultural and creative character of this home. This is a home of makers, be it art or food.
The design begins with the technical requirements, the ease, joy and comprehensiveness with which Kaplan presented them early and often. The contributions of the architect are its spatial qualities, its massive light and luminosity, its northerly translucent wall that opens in its entirety to provide diffused light/shade and establish the Sculpture Studio as a fully indoor-outdoor work environment.
The house is organized around a 200-foot-long axis, topped by a walkable skylight that extends from one end of the property to the other. Every piece of the building and landscape can refer back to this datum. During a meeting in my office, Kaplan brought a 13" high marble sculpture he had created in his studio in Tuscany. I thought it was stunning and placed it gingerly at the north end of the 200-foot-long axis on our 18-foot-long model (1' = 1"). It naturally became the focus and terminus of the centerpiece of the house. We realized that it would be seen from the entire length of the house all day and night. I then suggested/inquired if Kaplan could increase the scale of the sculpture by ten times. Having studied in and spent the previous 30 years in Pietrasanta, Kaplan knew that anything could be done in stone in Italy. He said, "Yes." When the house was completed some years later the sculpture, now known as "Flight" (2007, Carrara Marble, 156" x 60") was placed, fundamental and integral to the architecture and landscape of the house.
That episode, the result of an extraordinary relationship between owner/artist and architect and builder, was easy and seamless. It embodied the simple power of talent and trust, wrapped in joy, respect and optimism. How rare, and yet fundamental it is, that projects draw out and nurture the manifest and latent creative power in each and every player.
Click through our slideshow to see photos of the project.
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