Bruce D. Nagel Architect
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The Evans House is the primary residence for a single family located in Greenwich,Connecticut and completed in 1989.
The big idea of this large house is in its siting. Given a site sufficiently endowed with sylvan amenity to inspire an Arcadian dream, I conceived a stucco, bone white modern pile, situated on the highest and deepest point of the land where it has a commanding view of its foreground valley, replete with waterfall, stream, meadow, pond and bridge, a little like a modem Prior Park. The procession to this view organized and structured this house.
Meant to be first seen across this landscape from the bridge, the house is reached by a drive hidden in the woods, from which it is glimpsed only briefly before the approach abruptly emerges, turning through a fieldstone wall into a motor court entrance walled in by the house and terraced gardens.
From this court, the house is penetrated by two open axes - the continuation of the vehicular circulation, in the form of an integral porte-cochere leading to the service court, and the extension of the landscape view through the dining room, which though enclosed is otherwise treated (it is vaulted, and stucco, and stone on the floor) as an outdoor space.
Having given continuity thereby of the landscape into the house, the house is itself extended into and anchored upon this hilltop site. In a manner the solution inverts Palladio's device at the Villa Rotonda, where the presentation to each of the cardinal directions is instead equally bucolic, but here permits the response to each exposure to be particular and different. The cruciform plan resulting from the intersection of the two axes organizes the house into four quadrants, which each are made to adopt a form and function appropriate to their specific internal and external relationships.
The entrance court, fully walled on only two sides, is nonetheless clearly the empty quadrant, an open place for the receipt and redirection of the entrance procession, while in its terraced gardens it is also the boundary between the man-made landscape and the natural one at the back of the site.
The two-story living room, a grand baronial hall which with its shaped canopy of ceiling recalls a great head eyeing the view, is just as clearly the volume that fills a quadrant, thus being in shape and scale correctly emphasized in the hierarchy of the program. While the big fireplace that punctuates its face and terminates the entrance procession on the ground also interferes with a direct perspective of the view, two intimate places to look out unimpeded are provided in the little ports within the fireplace inglenook. Since within the generous space of the hall the fireplace and view can be seen in unison, the hearth as the symbolic center for the dwelling is united both within and without with the view.
The family wing, a lateral two level sandwich of family living areas - family room, kitchen and breakfast on the first, children's bedrooms on the second - extends linearly through and beyond the third quadrant nearly all the way to the waterfall, where it hovers precipitately above it, thereby permitting a maximum horizontal array of all the major rooms and bedrooms towards the view. While this third quadrant is thus more than filled and therefore more engaged into the site, the fourth or service wing is pulled away and apart to the back of the site as an incomplete volume within the quadrant limits (the children's play deck on the upper level duplicates the void of the porte-cochere; the end and top are eroded) to suggest its dependence on the larger whole and its social independence.
Not to be forgotten, but not of the quadrant organization, the master bedroom/library wing comprises a two-story tower that, while projecting from this otherwise centrifugal diagram, terminates the bedroom hall circulation spine, thus helping to fasten the no growth end of the house firmly and permanently to the site. And on the first level of this tower, the library in its official role as refuge for the head of the household is an embellished cruciform in plan and elevation, thus being an appropriate microcosm of the whole.
Within this framework, the house contains a program rigorously worked out to suit the needs of a couple with four young children, having occasional house guests but relying extensively on full time household staff for their daily activities. The staff quarters have privatized external access from the garage court, as well as a direct linkage to the children's common play area and the bedroom stair to the kitchen. The children share bath areas, as well as play space, but both bed and bath areas are so distinguished as to be made private when required. The master wing contains its own independent vertical circulation to make the use of the library and master bedroom separate and sufficient. While both the family room and breakfast room must relate directly to the kitchen, the conflict between this and direct service to the formal dining is solved by the hidden butler's pantry that can enclose the service circulation when desired. Circulation of guests, children and staff down to the cabana (a little red grotto in the terrace wall) and pool can be accomplished by several independent routes all leading to the expansive peripheral decks on the south side of the house.
My modern temple for living in this apotheosis of suburbia is appropriately acropolitic and still heroic in its imagery. Piled high in stratified layers and punctuated with the living hall, it recalls from afar an ascent for the ancients. But the near ground brings into closer focus the fact that the terraces are as much promenade decks, the ornaments more nautical than other, and the layered reading of the open public floor and closed second reminiscent of, notwithstanding the perpendicular thrust of the pool deck into the meadow, the great sweep of a liner astride these waves of grass.
To complete my domestic landscape I did not have the adult fantasies of a Stourhead or Stowe to work with but I did have the children's, so my sylvan dream is appointed with their decorations: a play house, a camp site, a lookout on the hillock, a causeway bridge (reached by a slide) to the sports field beyond the falls, a path to the pond with its swim float. Each element plays its own role nonetheless in giving the manor its garden with near, middle and far measures of its grandness upon which to fix the hungry eye.