Our future-thinking Clients, a couple who moved to Pittsburgh from Israel
because of their jobs, fell in love with their new city. After living downtown for a
couple years, they found this potential Southside Slopes site on Roanoke Street
and asked us to design a unique home there that would take advantage of the
spectacular city views.

 

Phase 1: Program and Structure

The project was live-work with the two portions of the project connected via an
elevator and an exterior ramp only. The idea was to integrate work and home yet
clearly separate them into two types of space. Integrated in the earth, the offices
would have provided a comfortable, private place to communicate and
collaborate. Up above, the home would have taken advantage of the view while
still maintaining a certain amount of privacy and peace behind the screened
walls.

 

The poor soil conditions and formidable slope were a perfect challenge. Although
building here was permitted, the site was so steep that drillers and geotech folk
were unable to access it. Our challenge was to design pier foundations for the
home that could be drilled and poured entirely from the street. Together with our
engineering team, we devised the structural strategy that resulted in the
triangular shape of the primary structure. Additional construction below would
have been firmly tied both to the primary piers with grade beams and to the
ground below with mini-piles. Once the first floor slab was poured, the contractor
would have been able to use it as a staging platform to work on the site below.

 

Phase 2: Neuroscience

After the access road collapsed and the clients decided to abandon the project,
we partnered with a neuroscience graduate to explore the impact of architecture
on the human brain. The brain seeks a balance between familiarity and novelty,
between order and complexity. The completed design aims to create a
dynamic, enriching experience by applying three interwoven neuroscientific
principles: biophilia, or nature-informed design; sensory engagement; and
cognitive stimulation.

 

For example, the project’s perforated aluminum panels duplicate the pattern of
the trees that screened the site prior to construction. The additional volumes that
cascade down from the house emerge from the hill at irregular angles and with
varying sizes, imitating rock formations.

 

We’ve made a point to fully engage the senses: The home, situated
midway between earth, air, city, and forest, prioritizes exploration. With
no visible windows from the street and no hint of the gardens below, its
complexity is only hinted at as one approaches. An occupant can
construct a conceptual map of the home only by entering and then
experiencing each successive space in turn.

 

The wide variety of textures present in the materials used throughout the
house enrich the visual experience, from the ceramic tile on the lower
garden levels to the perforated facade fractals. Shadow and light play
dynamically across the home interior as the sun moves across the sky.
At night, the negative space of the pattern appears as the house is lit
from within. There are numerous places where you are encouraged to
touch the metal screen. And the sound of gently running water from the
pools follows the project circulation, guiding visitors through the project
spaces.

 

If the home had been built, it would have become a Pittsburgh icon. This
project connects people and places together through metal, hills, and
water.