James Merrell Architects P.C.

James Merrell Architects P.C.

Sag Harbor



In photos of good design, visual effects are always the star. But it is our philosophy that design also depends on rigorous geometrical thinking. Through our floor plans and our geometrically abstracted plan diagrams, it can be seen how an underlaying compositional order can bring a quiet and timeless quality to the architectural experience.

The geometry of  our Bridgehampton Beach House was inspired by the constraints of its building envelope, a 90’ x 90’ square. This suggested a two-story, 9-square cubic volume where the intersecting grid lines suggested logical points for the structure. Then, by wrapping the circulation on both floors around a central void, a modern “cloister” materialized. Altogether, this generated a three-dimensional framework, organized around a central void, to hold our client’s program.

With human needs being less orderly than mathematics, we organized our program according to a different set of ideas. First, to maximize ocean views we lined up the interior public rooms (kitchen/breakfast table, dining room, and living room) along the southern wing. Then, to maximize afternoon light for the exterior public spaces (pool, decks and spa) we organized them along the western wing as a negative volume. This opened the courtyard to the western sky allowing light to flood the remaining spaces. This spatial organization created our first ambiguous reading – the eroded cube or the constructed “U”?

At the southwest corner, an interesting condition arises. The collision of a positive and a negative volume equalize each other and generates a two-story volume that is both solid, and void. The exterior porch is capped and the hollow framework of the second-floor mass cantilevers out over the pool axis below, commanding the best views of house, sky and ocean, and rivaling the negative volume of the courtyard for primacy. This condition challenges the notion of the 9-square grid having one center, and sets up our second ambiguous reading – the shifting centers of the grid.

Taking a closer look, the math can be read in the rhythm of the second floor wood fins. But since design rules should not overwhelm function, you can also see how the relative needs of each rooms privacy, or desired transparency are negotiated in the elevations.

Finally, one may ask ‘what is the value of this geometry for our clients?’ With math always structuring the work of architects, it is never the raison d’ete. Though clients will sense its mathematical order, the human mind needs to be free to construct their own relationship with the house.  That said, as these clients occupy their house they will surely come to a deeper awareness of its order. And through a process of endless discovery, the clients will have a timeless architectural experience that will always keep revealing itself for years to come.  

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Status: Built
Location: Bridgehampton, NY, US
Firm Role: Architect
Additional Credits: Landscape: LaGuardia Design Group
Builder: Men At Work Construction