The panelists for this session discussed how they incorporate the context of landscape, climate, clients, culture, and history when designing a new house.

Laura Hartman, AIA
Fernau & Hartman Architects
Berkeley, CA

Hartman's firm intentionally dismisses arguments of style in favor of site- and program-specific responses to each project. Inspiration comes from local traditions and forms, regardless of building type. Prior to starting her own highly regarded firm, Hartman worked at Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis and as a designer with Dolf Schnebli e Associati, Architetti in Agno, Switzerland; she currently serves on the Sea Ranch Association Design Committee.

"How you get to know a place and what you draw from it," is how Hartman defined context. She explored the idea of context in regards to Northern California's hilly terrain, temperate climate, and informal lifestyle.

Her main points included:

  • Exploring how buildings should fit in the landscape by allowing them to bend and adjust to the site;
  • Pushing the indoor-outdoor relationship and how to blur that edge; and
  • Looking to past iconic architects who worked in the Bay Area such as Maybeck and Schindler.

Hartman talked about the ways she addresses these issues and showed projects that demonstrated those techniques. Some of these examples included breaking a building up into parts to better hug the site's topography, while also creating outdoor rooms or courtyards. She also specs subdued exterior materials and finishes that blend with the landscape's natural hues.

Mark Hutker, AIA
Hutker Architects
Vineyard Haven, MA

Hutker runs a 30-person firm with headquarters on Martha's Vineyard and Falmouth, MA. His multiple award-winning practice is known for sensitive additions to the delicate environment of the Cape. Hutker, his partners, and his associates work closely with landscape architects and their own interior designers to create houses they call "Heirlooms," worthy legacies for their owners and creators to leave behind for the next generations.

Hutker showed various approaches to creating houses that are "intrinsically connected to the gorgeous sites on Martha's Vineyard" but also hold up to the strict review boards and "buggy summers." Hutker looks to the island's history--geographical and cultural--as a guiding context.

Some of his contextual viewpoints are:

  • Incorporating the long tradition of boatbuilding into the materials and craftsmanship of the house;
  • Looking back at how the indigenous people lived and what building types they used to be comfortable throughout the seasons; and
  • Considering local vernacular and how the scale of these older houses better fits the landscape.

Joeb Moore, AIA
Kaehler/Moore Architects
Greenwich, CT

Connecticut's taste in residential architecture runs the gamut from grand to discreet, from old world to modern times. Here Moore is building a practice that embraces the contradictions and explores the tension between these seemingly opposing forces. His houses work on a number of different levels simultaneously--familiar and fresh, serious and witty, straightforward and cunning.

Active contextualism was the key concept that Moore introduced. He says context is constantly changing based on social, cultural, philosophical, political, geographical, and even historic events. Moore showed several projects and discussed how he feels architecture is more about creating an experience rather than solving a problem. He added that "there are many different concepts of aesthetic beauty and many different concepts of context."