Problem solving is one of the most important missions of the architecture profession, but practitioners doing urban infill work usually have more than their fair share of challenges to overcome. Designed by Studio 0.10, this single-family residence in Los Angeles is a perfect example of the complexities architects face.

Bordered on two sides by a family-owned nursery, the home is located in a post-war subdivision of west Los Angeles just a few blocks away from the popular retail and commercial strip, Sawtelle Boulevard. The neighborhood mostly consists of original one-story cottage-style homes, but the clients—a couple of artists/curators who previously lived in the 1643 12th Street live/work condo complex in Santa Monica, Calif., developed and designed by Frank Gehry—wanted something entirely different.

“The wife owns a photography gallery and the husband is a German painter/sculptor,” says Studio 0.10 principal Andrew Liang of the clients. “They wanted a lot.”

The “aggressive” agenda was aimed at “integrating domestic programs with studio space for work and extensive art display requirements,” the firm states. It called for a fully integrated apartment for the wife’s elderly mother and a flexible private outdoor space for the husband’s work and for entertaining. “The wife also wanted gallery space that would serve as an extension of her main gallery for events and showings,” Liang adds. Plus, local codes require parking for four cars. The tubular-shaped lot measures only 50 feet by 150 feet, so the architects had their work cut out for them.

Studio 0.10 took advantage of the lot’s R-2 zoning (which allows two units on a single lot) and envisioned the project as two volumes—one with the garage, studio and apartment, and one as a three-level main house.

“Whereas the typical planning approach for residential infill lots is to emphasize the street exposure while maximizing privacy concerns on the three enclosed sides of the property, the nursery program provided the project with a very interesting opportunity to explore outwardly exposure on three sides of the lot through a vertical organizational strategy,” the firm explains.

The front volume measures 40 feet by 29.5 feet and can be accessed from the street, while the house, which measures 36 feet by 32 feet, is located in back with a courtyard between the two buildings. Shaped like a shotgun house, the first-floor apartment features a long plan with a bedroom, bath, and kitchen/living room. The second floor houses the artist studio, office, and a bathroom.

The main house is organized on three levels, with a third-floor master suite; second-floor guest quarters, home office, and sitting room; and first-floor living spaces. “We organized it so that the dining room and kitchen open to the courtyard between the two volumes and the living room opens to the backyard,” Liang says.

With the spatial, programmatic, and fenestration requirements realized, there was no remaining space for the wife’s gallery. Therefore, the architects decided to use the home’s circulation pattern as a vehicle for displaying art. “The wooden armature wraps the entire house and works its way up the three floors,” Liang explains.

“The circulation pattern progressively moves the users horizontally and vertically from an introverted site experience at the entry to an extroverted urban experience once above the first floor,” the firm writes. “In addition to serving as the circulation pattern for the house, the movement sequence is also a continuous linear art display space simultaneously mediating between art viewing and choreographed outwardly micro (site) to macro (urban) views.”

Studio 0.10 clad the two structures in custom-patterned metal that “personifies the structures with a smooth monolithic quality serving as high contrast with the striated pattern of the neighborhood,” the firm explains. “The cladding is mounted on rails relieving the entire cladding system from the structural walls creating a breathable layer of air space that prevents heat transfer from the outside to the inside.”

Because production windows weren’t large enough for the project’s needs, the firm hired a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based craftsman to fabricate all of the large pivoting windows, folding doors, and millwork throughout the house. The firm specified high-performance glass to virtually eliminate the penetration of UV light, offering protection for the art. The interiors are straightforward and elegant—largely white drywall, concrete floors, and ipe floors. Says Liang, “It’s about juxtaposing the dark exteriors with white minimalist interiors.”