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Montalba Architects Utilizes Vertical Courtyard Concept to Complete David Montalba's Personal Family Residence in Santa Monica, California

Project name:
Vertical Courtyard House
Architecture firm:
Montalba Architects
Santa Monica, California, USA
Kevin Scott
Principal architect:
David Montalba
Design team:
M&M & Co. (Surveyor), Grover Hollingsworth and Associates (Soil)
Interior design:
Built area:
5,450 ft²
Site area:
Design year:
Completion year:
Civil engineer:
Wynn Engineering
Structural engineer:
The Office of Gordon Polon
Environmental & MEP:
PBS Engineers
Elysian Landscapes
Sean O’Connor Lighting
Tools used:
Concrete, glass, wood, steel, stone
David Montalba
Residential › House

The new home increases in size and maintains scale by going vertical to seamlessly blend in with neighboring historic and eclectic homes. Montalba Architects completed construction on Founding Principal David Montalba’s personal residence thoughtfully designed around a vertical courtyard concept. The 5,450 square-foot, three-story home seamlessly merges the indoors and outdoors while vertically expanding to create a coexisting structure with the surrounding neighborhood.

image © Kevin Scott

The project combines two initial design concepts: an enclosed courtyard sliced by circulation and landscape, and two volumes comprised of horizontal planes and landscaped balconies divided by lush landscaping and sutured with a connective bridge. The resulting form is an L-shaped plan centered around the vertical courtyard that locks into the site and isolates high-traffic areas to the first floor while the floating ‘box’ second floor hovers in place above the poured concrete footing and ground-level living quarters.

“Given the lot’s size and the neighborhood, the biggest challenge was making sure we didn’t overbuild and maintained some degree of privacy with our immediate neighbors,” says Founding Principal David Montalba. “This was achieved by creating a basement level and vertical courtyard in which the house is organized. Los Angeles has a long history of residential courtyard buildings and that in combination with the privacy it offered helped drive this concept.”

image © Kevin Scott

The home centers around the vertical courtyard that connects all three levels of the home, along with adjacent terraced gardens, to create moments of simplicity and poetry within the residence. The three-story courtyard feeds light through each of the floors, including the basement, while providing inward privacy and sightlines to the backyard. A series of movable screens further blur the edges between indoor and outdoor space and help articulate a minimal façade while the concrete base on the lower levels acts as the anchor from which these elements all come together.

The design strength of the home is found in the subtle layering of spaces, landscapes, and concepts. To create privacy, the louvered screens, glazing, and concrete create an abstract yet consistent separation between the neighborhood and the residence. From here, these elements begin to shift or disappear altogether, allowing for a hierarchy of security, exposure, and circulation that creates a dynamic, varied experience within the plan.

image © Kevin Scott

The home is largely inspired by the Southern California neighborhood and Swiss design, which influenced the craft of materials and manufacturers sourced. All of the materials were selected in response to natural light, considering varying intentions, reflectivity, sustainability, and textures. The home carefully mends together design elements from each while adding hints of warmth and texture from the wood and concrete.

In addition to its minimal site footprint, the home utilizes various sustainable systems and design concepts including cross-ventilation over the footprint of the home and evaporative cooling from the strategically sited pool, which creates a cool-air corridor through the family living area. Native plantings are used along the perimeter of the home for additional shading, cooling, and stormwater retention. Potable water used for cooling and rainwater is collected on-site, and habitable conditions are made possible by a Tesla power wall, natural daylight from the vertical courtyard, cross-ventilation from operable glazing, and thermal mass in the basement that provides stable temperatures. Additional sustainable systems include solar panels, radiant heating, and radiant cooling.

About Montalba Architects

Founding Principal David Montalba, FAIA, SIA, started Montalba Architects in 2004 and is the driving force of leadership and design within the firm. Montalba Architects is a diverse architecture and design studio of more than 50 designers based in Santa Monica, CA, and Lausanne, Switzerland.

The award-winning practice is engaged in retail, residential, hospitality, and other select commercial projects in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Believing that architecture and one’s environment can truly improve quality of life, Montalba's approach is humanistic in nature, which often leads to solutions that are discrete, contextual, yet conceptual in their intent, effect, and appeal.

Montalba Architects’ original Santa Monica studio is located within Bergamot Station, a creative hub and arts district at 2525 Michigan Ave., Bldg. T4, Santa Monica, CA. Montalba Architects, Sàrl is located at Rue Centrale 6, 4 eme stage, Lausanne, CH-1003, Switzerland. 

By Naser Nader Ibrahim

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