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Crook | Cup | Bow | Twist Powder Room

Schwartz and Architecture

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  • Civil Engineer: Neal Schwartz
  • Civil Engineer: Neal Schwartz
  • Interior Designer: Allison Damonte

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27 sq. feet
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2015 Residential Architect Design Awards
Honorable Mention

A unique detail in the exterior wall of this 27-square-foot powder room, just off the entrance to a 4,000-square-foot house in Nicasio, Calif., provides a surprising experience of light while demonstrating how to enhance board-formed concrete. San Francisco–based Schwartz and Architecture employed a master mason to embed 3/4–inch-thick acrylic planks in the house’s thick, cast-in-place concrete south wall. The acrylic pieces run the full width of the wall and are staggered in a pattern that required careful coordination with the structural reinforcement hidden within. During the day, sunlight creates an active light show inside of the tiny utilitarian room. At night, the flow of light is reversed with a timer-activated fixture in the powder room illuminating the acrylic pieces from within, casting a pattern of horizontal light lines on the exterior wall at the entrance to the house. —Edward Keegan, AIA

From the Jury
“The conceptual idea makes this little powder room the fulcrum of the house.” —John Frane

Project Credits

Architect: Schwartz and Architecture, San Francisco—Neal Schwartz, AIA
Contractor: Hammond Fine Homes
Project Size: 27 square feet (bath); 4,000 square feet (total)
Construction Cost: $600 per square foot (bath)

Click here to see all of the winners from the 2015 Residential Architect Design Awards.

Project Description

This 27 square foot powder room is by far the smallest space in this 3,200 square foot home in Nicasio CA. Where some might restrain themselves from highlighting such a utilitarian space, we elevated this tiny room to one of the most unique spaces in the home. The powder room sits behind a board-formed concrete wall adjacent to the front door of the home. In conjunction with our structural engineer and a master-mason, we developed a way to embed ¾” planks of acrylic into the South facing concrete wall. During the day, the acrylic captures the intense sun (while the concrete keeps the space temperate) creating a vibrant and entirely unexpected light show when one opens the powder room door. From the outside though, the acrylic planks appear simply as dark striations in the concrete. At night though, a timed light inside the bathroom illuminates the backside of the wall and creates a glowing nightlight at the front door.

The constraints of board-formed concrete and the sequencing of this type of construction determined a pattern that could both retain the material integrity of the concrete while pushing its limits. In addition, the requirements for the vertical members of rebar created a staggered pattern that suggests a sense of movement; a theme that is carried throughout the project. After several experimental concrete pours, the final detail turned a typical powder room into a design feature that pushes the limits of material and construction and jolts our preconceptions of what lies behind a simple bathroom door. The wall appears to transform -- from solid to penetrable, from tame to wild, from utilitarian to spectacle, from dark and stoic to light-filled and poetic.

The powder room embraces the project’s overall intent; to intensify an awareness of the natural systems that surround us, particularly their tendency towards movement and change, in order to foster a constant desire to move through the building and back out into the surrounding landscape.
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