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Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects

Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects

Culver City, CA

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Baxter

Tucked into the hills east of Silver Lake Reservoir, the Baxter residence features a dynamic design move made possible by humble materials alongside advanced technology. 
Designing the street-side entry gate as the front door, the pool deck as the main living area, and the gardens as the private retreat - the residence sits in conversation with mid-century modern masterpieces. These include Neutra's VDL House to the north, Lautner's "lost" Jules Salkin Residence to the east, and the Reiner-Burchill (Silvertop) Residence to the west; all works exploring contemporary ideas of residential dwelling. 
On site, parametric CMU walls follow the existing topography, carving into the hillside to preserve remnants of the adjacent famed Villa Capistrano Gardens, originally designed for Julian Eltinge, America's first drag superstar. 
The Baxter residence consists of two volumes, with the upper one slightly rotated from the lower one in response to the topography and view. Similarly, the parametric CMU wall has a series of slightly rotated blocks on top of each other, creating a "feathered" pattern that is both elegant and dynamic. 

Long considered to be an economical alternate to pour-in-place concrete, concrete masonry unit is simple and practical on the positive side but could also be cheap and utilitarian. The Baxter Parametric CMU Wall shows that this humble material can be reinterpreted to be an elegant yet dynamic feature. 
To realize the vision of a reinterpreted CMU wall, the design team worked closely with the structural engineer, contractor and the masons throughout the design and construction process. A wide breadth of tools (parametric, BIM, VR, 3D-printing, CNC) were integrated as part of the collaborative process as the collective team overcame challenges from various material and construction constrains. New tools were also developed to facilitate the construction process and to resolve constructability issues. 
On the parametric design side, the design team leveraged Grasshopper to generate iterative designs where various CMU block rotations were tested and optimized, based on structural and budget constraints. The structural engineer was engaged in the whole process as the rotation of the CMU blocks would influence the structural strength of the wall. Several rotation points for the blocks were studied to make sure that the hollow core of the block is not exposed and so that the masons can still apply mortar efficiently. The rotation angles of the CMU blocks were also optimized so that the pattern is modularized. This improved constructability dramatically and reduced construction cost. 
To document the parametric CMU wall accurately, the design team developed a custom script that transferred the rotation information in the parametric model directly to the BIM model. As a result, documentation accuracy is maintained even as the design was continuously evolving. 

In addition to leveraging VR and real-time visualization, the design team also 3D-printed scaled models of the parametric CMU wall to further study the patterning under various light conditions. Having the construction method in mind, the design team worked with the contractor and the masons to develop and fabricate CNC-milled jigs fore the on-site installation of the CMU blocks. The jigs were designed such that they provide a datum for alignment to the mason's string line. The jig sets two angles at a time (with the rotation degree highly visible). This allows the mason to use the previous CMU block to align the next one. 

The Baxter Parametric CMU Wall also represents the power of collaboration: the masons were at first skeptical about the constructability of the wall, but in the end, they were enthusiastic and integral to the success of giving new life to a humble material and made the Baxter Parametric CMU Wall a reality. 


 
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Status: Under Construction
Location: Los Angeles, CA, US
Firm Role: Architect
Additional Credits: Contractor: DTK Builders
Structural: David H. Lau and Associates
Civil: T Engineering Group, Inc.
Landscape: Terremoto
MEP: South Coast Engineering Group

 
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