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Diane Middlebrook Writers’ Cabins

CCS Architecture completed The Middlebrook Studios, consisting of four new studios for The Djerassi Resident Artists Program. The property consists of over 582 acres of rolling hills, forests and meadows high in the coastal hills of Woodside, CA. The project was conceived as a memorial to Diane Middlebrook, an accomplished writer and teacher, and late wife of program founder Carl Djerassi. Though the studios are designed to be used by artists of all disciplines, special attention was made to cater to the specific needs of writers, where quiet contemplation, free from distraction, is a welcome amenity.

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© Paul Dyer

  • The property consists of 582 acres of rolling hills, forests and meadows high in the coastal hills of Woodside, CA.
  • The four sleep/work cabins are designed with sustainable features, including a freestanding, pre-engineered steel roof assembly that carries solar panels.
  • All are aimed at the southern and western views but skewed a few degrees from each other, giving the arrangement a looseness that contrasts with the linear rigidity of the roof.
  • The siting of building takes advantage of uninterrupted views of the Pacific coast to the southwest, and the coastal ridgeline to the east.
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© Paul Dyer

Djerassi Resident Artists Program:

The Djerassi Resident Artists’ Program provides the sort of peaceful working getaway that artists dream about.

Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the program has added four new sleep/work studios, the Diane Middlebrook Writers’ Cabins, built in memory of founder Carl Djerassi’s late wife, an author and poet. The cabins are small—280 square feet—and materials are simple and low-maintenance by necessity: Djerassi is nonprofit. And their cedar plank siding and galvanized steel canopy are lovely, but more important, weather well. Unadorned sheetrock walls and carpet tile samples make up most of the decor.

Simplicity of materials made sense for another reason: The site is on a former cattle ranch, so architect Cass Calder Smith took his cues from the rural setting. Still, given budgetary limits, creating cabins that were architecturally worthy was a challenge, recalls Smith, CCS Architecture’s principal.

“A lot of the costs were things you can’t see,” says Smith. Foundations had to be deep due to the clay soil. Because the cabins are on a hill, drainage needed to include an underground capture and diversion system. Code restrictions abounded, too, but working around all of these issues was worth it for a result designed to foster creativity.

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© Paul Dyer

Email interview conducted by John Hill.- about the project:

The Middlebrook Studios are four sleep/work cabins south of San Francisco that benefit from views of the Pacific Ocean. Architect Cass Calder Smith designed the cabins to go above and beyond the local green-building requirements; most notable is a prefabricated steel canopy that straddles the four wood buildings and acts as an armature for solar panels. The architect answered some questions about the project.

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© Paul Dyer

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

  • CCS was put on a shortlist of architects. We were interviewed and based on our qualifications and enthusiasm fro the project, we were selected. The group that interviewed CCS was the founder Carl Djerassi, his son Dale Djerassi, the executive director Dennis O‘leary, and George Wolfson who is a trustee.
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© Paul Dyer

Can you describe your design process for the building?

  • The design process started with walking the site with the clients to establish where to build the studios. Like all projects, I work very collaboratively with my clients, so this was the start of that.
  • Then in schematic design, I explored a variety of building types and shapes, but decided it should be 4 small buildings that came together as a collective, and that is what the overall canopy roof does. I thought about what writers in residency would want and what would make them more creative than usual. From that I felt the best was to aim them at the Pacific Ocean to be inspired by the beauty of the place, yet with their own privacy. No other people, nor the other studios, can be seen from any of the studios, so an introverted experience is contrasted with an extroverted view. This was presented as an artistic endeavor to the clients and they really appreciated it – as they felt that anything created at the program should be of high artistic nature.
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© Paul Dyer

How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?

  • It compares very closely to what was expected. The design was modeled in the computer, and we built a scale model of it as well. This taught us what to expect, and in the end it ended up better than expected because the site is so dramatic and you can’t really model that. I use wood in many of my projects and, as you can see, this was the case here too.
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© Paul Dyer

How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?

  • It’s different than other projects in that the program is different than a house or a restaurant. It’s also architecture to foster a single person to be more creative, and to perhaps foster expanded thought. Even though mostly different, it’s similar in the fact that it’s still for domestic use…a room to stay in essentially.
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© Paul Dyer

How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

  • It’s a version of what I call “warm modernism,” which is somewhat common today. The projects have a bit of sustainability incorporated, from PV solar panels on the roof to FSC Lumber and fly ash concrete. We also carpeted the floors with carpet tiles that were leftover samples from our office.
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© Paul Dyer

Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?

  • New projects that are influenced by this aren’t happening yet, but hopefully soon. It will be based on a certain type of client.
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© Paul Dyer

CCS Architecture:

The Diane Middlebrook Memorial Writers’ Residence, at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, consists of four sleep/work cabins designed with sustainable features, including a freestanding, pre-engineered steel roof assembly that carries solar panels. The new structures are designed for month-long residencies by writers, poets, composers and playwrights.

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© Paul Dyer

The studios, arrayed under the steel canopy, are sited to maximize the spectacular setting in the rural Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All are aimed at the southern and western views but skewed a few degrees from each other, giving the arrangement a looseness that contrasts with the linear rigidity of the roof. Clad in unfinished, red cedar boards that will age over time, the cabins feature large, sliding glass doors and private outdoor spaces. The northeast-facing sides contain clerestory windows angled towards the surrounding ridge lines and trees. Rectangular holes in the steel canopy create patterns of sun and shadows and align with skylights in the cabins, giving each unit a window to the sky.

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© Paul Dyer

The cabins were designed to foster the creative process but also create a micro-community for the writers within the ranch. With visual and acoustical privacy, each has its own epic view and stand in close proximity under a unifying roof.

The 280-sf cabins are compact to minimize the impact on the land. The main area for working receives warm southern sun, an antidote to the area’s cool climate and fog; sleeping nooks are behind, away from the strong light. The architect partially donated their design services and supplied the carpet and porcelain bath tiles from samples collected in its office over the years. Materials range in color, pattern and texture and were composed in the field to create a different scheme for each unit.

Adhering to San Mateo’s Build It Green program’s “GreenPoint” Rating system, the new cabins exceed a rating of 100 points (minimum of 50 points is required).

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© Paul Dyer

Project Data:

Project name: Diane Middlebrook Writers’ Cabins
Location: Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2650 Bear Gulch Road, Woodside, California 94062, United States
Coordinates: 37.364702, -122.300933
Type:

  • Type By Characteristic: Studio, Cabin / Hut, Green & Sustainable House
  • Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House, Hill House
  • Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
  • Type By Structural: Steel House

Materials: Steel and wood frame, Concrete floors
Project Area: 4 x 300 sq.ft units / 280 sqm
Site Area: 582 acres
Project Year: 2010
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2011

Awards:

  • 2012 – Interior Design Magazine Award – Best of Year 2012 – Category: Budget – Winner
  • 2012 – The Builder’s Choice Awards – Category: Live/Work project – Grand Award
  • 2012 – WAN Awards – Building of the Year – Nominated
  • 2012 – ArchDaily Building of the Year Award – Category: Housing – Nominated

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Djerassi Resident Artists Program
Architects: CCS Architecture – 44 MCLEA COURT, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103, United States
Design Principal: Cass Calder Smith
Project Architect: Tim Quayle
Interior Design Director: Barbara Turpin-Vickroy
Structural Engineer: John Yadegar & Associates
Contractor: Bill Brown Construction
Steel Fabricator (canopy): Quincy Bragg; Critical Path Steel Buildings
Solar: Sun, Light & Power
Text Description: © Courtesy of CCS Architecture, world-architects, builderonline
Images: © CCS Architecture, Paul Dyer

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