This four-bedroom, 1800 sf, modular house will be completed by March 2019. Its a breakthrough project for us and we hope will provide a template for many future homeowners who may want to bypass the typical process of custom-designing and building homes.
On the northeastern shore of Springs, New York, a hamlet in East Hampton, a short dirt road winds between tall pines and brings one to a small 1/2 acre lot that is perched 18' above Gardiner's Bay. It is an arresting experience to exit the tree-covered road and be confronted with an expansive cut of the sky, the bay, and a horizon line that is straddled with Gardiner's Island. On the east and west sides, neighboring houses sit not too far away. These two extremes, complete openness on one axis and enclosure on the other, inform our design and its materiality.
An existing house on the lot, too deteriorated from long exposure to salt and humidity, is to be removed. And many interior wood finishes will be salvaged for re-use in the new house. In its place, a new 3,100 square feet house will include three bedrooms, a study, living spaces and intimate outdoor spaces and courtyards.
The natural beauty of the bay's constantly shifting conditions, its deep variations in color, and the geometric purity of the horizon line, are the remarkable features of this site. Architecture, here, could do no more than to be witness. So our house sits with this phenomenal experience, weaving the line of the horizon through its spaces, slowly unveiling the views, with glimpses through layers and framed transparencies.
The house is split into three pods that are connected with a low-ceiling bridge. This grouping scales down the house in relation to the lot and is reminiscent of older settlements in the area.
Moving through the house one passes under overhangs, through vertical fins and between small courtyards. The effect is one of unveiling, the view is captured and released, culminating in a living space where two 18' tall side-walls hold the horizon, sky, and bay.
A few small-scale inner courtyards, set in the center of the house, create sheltered outdoor spaces, away from northerly winds and allow direct southerly light to enter the living spaces; they also help maintain a level of privacy between the three inhabitants of the house. Nature can be harsh, and these spaces provide necessary relief when facing the bay may prove difficult.
On the east-west axis, the walls are devoid of openings, shielding the interior spaces from neighbors while directing the eye towards the horizon. These walls are made with Structural Insulated Panels and clad with charred cypress boards, prepared using the traditional Japanese Shou-Sugi-Ban technique; the charred wood provides a permanent protective shield against termites (a problem that effected the existing house) and requires nearly no maintenance.
Utilitarian spaces, bathrooms ,and closets are each boxed and stacked against a concrete wall that rises from the basement to the roof - one concrete wall in each pod, dividing the space and providing a sense of stability. Cedar and pine boards, recycled from the demolished house, are used to clad these boxes in an informal and non-luxurious manner. Electrical conduits and plumbing are surface-mounted for ease of access and to reveal the mechanics of the structure.
Special attention is given to the way the roof edge meets the glazed walls below it. The roof tapers down to a 2” edge, almost disappearing from view. We felt the expression of free-standing walls would be akin to masts of a ship, and maybe even in some manner, appear to be touching the sky.
The ‘lanes’ in Amagansett, New York, are a set of walkable streets perpendicular to Main street, dotted with a diverse range of houses and styles, that are walking distance to the ocean.
One of our challenges was to create a home that would accommodate the owners wish for a maintenance-free house with longevity, inside and outside. This led to building shapes and materials that would be hardy, devoid of delicate detailing, and requiring no re-finishing over time. All exterior materials, from the charred cypress, to raw concrete walls, to the zinc roof are chosen for their ability to weather and patina naturally over time. Windows and doors are pushed tight up to the forward plane of the clapboards to keep a tight weather seal.
In a departure from recent additions to the area, where houses extend from side to side, on a given parcel, often choking it, we opted to let the side facade, the narrow end, be the street-front. By doing so, we were able to let the longer side of the house face south and direct sun, while maintaining a suitable distance to the neighbors.
The front yard is softened with a green buffer, a meadow, which over time will grow and create a natural green zone along the street, while creating privacy for the homeowners. The first impression of the house is that of a raw, unfinished, concrete wall sitting in this meadow; its profile echoing the familiar shape of a barn. It hides the garage, and scales the front face of the house down to meet that of older homes that were prevalent in the lanes. Quickly, the concrete gives way to a slightly charred cypress (an organic anti-termite material), starting a play between these two materials that extends throughout the house — contrasting spaces of recluse (wood) with foundational anchoring walls (concrete).
The ground level is dedicated to living spaces and offers a bedroom for guests. In the living room, a raw steel box is inserted into a concrete wall providing accessible storage for our clients collection of rare and vintage vinyl records. The connection with the outdoors, size of windows and overhangs, is carefully managed to both address the clients’ wish for a strong sense of interiority, as well as the filtering of natural light.
The second floor holds the parents bedroom, at the far end. It is separated from the children’s bedrooms with a second floor porch and roof ‘cut-out’. The porch is entered through a south-facing sliding glass door that, together with the north-facing ribbon window, allow natural light to filter into the house and reflect down into the heart of the house via narrow slits, and openings, along the staircase and its concrete stair-wall.
A sunken courtyard on the south side of the house and a generous light-well on the north break the flatness of the site, and allow light to be filtered into the lower level, transforming a basement into a well-lit family room with a private outdoor space.
From Vincent Scully in American Architecture & Urbanism
"Behind the trees, all along the East Coast, stand the houses, though originally they stood stark and alone in pitiless, Iron Age clearings. In New England, it was an English medieval wood-frame dwelling imported in toto. Rapidly, however, modifications were made in it which led its forms in the direction taken by those of New Mexico. The thatched roof was changed to shingles, creating a tighter, harder profile. The skeleton frame, which in English examples might be weatherboarded, plastered, tiled, or left exposed as half-timber, was soon uniformly sheathed in thin, narrow American clapboards. Windows and doors were pushed tight up to the forward plane of the clapboards to keep a weather seal. The extremes of the American climate so played a part in closing the surface, making it more planar, more linear, and thinner than in the general run of English houses.... As in New Mexico, everything became simplified and clarified; the virtues sought were now the elemental ones of strong, obvious shapes and plain surfaces."
Single Family Detached, 3,000 sf on ground floor, 3,600 sf on lower (cellar) level
In one of our initial meetings with our clients, we shared a picture of a small airplane hangar showing an uninterrupted interior space under an arched structure. We suggested this technology as a probable solution for their need for a voluminous and well-lit living space. We had several reasons to think this would be the right choice. Firstly the site is under a flight path to the local airport and is intersected by a train track. We felt that by embracing industrial construction, we would transcend the perceived limitations of the nearness of the airport and train tracks. Secondly, the corrugated galvanized steel technology of this building system is very cost effective. And finally, we were all seduced by the idea of a large column-less self-supporting canopy that enclosed all the public spaces of the house in a one single large room.
Other reasons reinforced our suggestion. The landscape of the East End, where the property is located, is filled with ‘quonset-hut’ green houses. At the same time, there are numerous examples of experiments in architecture, like the ‘pinwheel house’ by Peter Blake or the Motherwell house & studio by Pierre Chareau. We were compelled, therefore, to explore more non-conventional yet efficient ways to create a single family home.
The site itself is nearly three acres and is surrounded by a tall canopy of pine trees. This gave us a natural spatial boundary that would allow the living spaces to be open and require less privacy.
We countered the flatness of the site by creating a sunken courtyard and driveway. These allowed us to transform the lower level into a well-lit and habitable space. At the same time, they created a way for cool air from the lower level to be pushed up, through a large stairwell, and up into the arched living space -maintaining a moderate temperature.
One of our design challenges was to find a scale for the arch that would transform it from an industrial component into an intimate space. At a radius of 39’ with a peak ceiling height of 16’, we felt the building would be small enough to feel comfortable and yet have a sense of largeness associated with its uninterrupted ceiling curve. We made sure that the arch would visibly meet the floor on the inside and hover over the grade on the outside turning into a lighter element.
The arch contains the living, dining and kitchen areas in an open plan. A staircase, the kitchen counter and other low-height components define the space within it. The entry canopy to the arch and a few other components within it are at a height of 7’, creating a touchable lower plane within the larger structure.
To allow the client to be able to increase the number of bedrooms, we decided to house them in a flat roofed section, in the rear, made of structural insulated panels; the bedrooms are accessed through a connecting bridge. The lay out is simple and efficient and can easily accommodate horizontal additions.
Geothermal and high-efficiency HVAC, glazing u-values down to .12, SIP paneling, and a green roof contribute to the lowering of energy costs.
A 9500 sf modern addition to an existing house on the East End of Long Island, in Wainscott, New York.
The addition touches the side of the main house lightly with a 6' wide transparent bridge. Against the backdrop of a rigorously geometric existing house, it hops and leaps, creating its own spatial narrative. Our goal was to let the main house retain its dominant gabled roof, while re-framing it with a set of terraces that, in their horizontal angularity, refer to its roof lines.
The plan of the extension consists of two floor plates that criss-cross one another as they meander into the landscape, guided by one's movement towards the vistas and southern orientation. A caretakers' cottage with an asymmetrical gabled roof echoes the roof lines of the existing house and punctuates the flat roofed extension. Slight shifts in wall orientation create pockets of space that are used to house artwork in more intimate niches and alcoves.
Rooms are distributed around a core of open space and light that serves as a platform for viewing fine art and totem sculptures; a red resin floor defines this interior 'plaza' and cascades to the floor above and below.
The ground floor promenade culminates in a quiet library. There, heavy structural steel bracing remains exposed and is used to support thin metal shelves and counters - the weight of words counterbalancing the weight of walls. The library opens to a covered terrace; horizontal planters are suspended at the edges of the terrace and will one day provide a natural screen as plants and branches grow and hang down their sides.
On the second floor, the master bedroom opens to a broad balcony that overlooks the site. Roof overhangs, planters and a deep bench frame the space and create a secure boundary along the balcony edge. The room is oriented to catch southern light and sunset views.
Multiple flat roofs at different heights are covered with low-maintenance sedum and help reduce water run-off (a problem in the area) and give both the impression and reality of a terraced garden. On the second floor, the roof gardens blanket the adjacent roof surfaces and create a green foreground to distant farm views. Excess rainwater is funneled into steel gutters that are designed to double function as horizontal planters.
Outside, concrete slabs topped with seamless resin and stucco-finished walls help minimize the adverse impact of excessive salt and humidity prevalent in the area.
An art studio made of recycled shipping containers on the East End of Long Island, in Amagansett, New York. It includes 900 sf of space and a double height ceiling. Winner of an AIA Peconic Award and featured in numerous publications and design blogs.
The client needed an art studio close to her house (which we renovated in 2008). Her requirements called for a space of about 900 sf , a tight budget and for a simple structure that would be both inviting and reflective.
Our solution was to use two 9’-6” x 40’ x 8’ shipping containers (cost: $2,500 each, delivered) perched over a 9’ foundation wall/cellar. By cutting 75% of the floor of the containers, we were able to move the painting studio to a lower level via a wide staircase and take advantage of a high ceiling. The staircase itself acts as a transitional space for viewing art work.
The upper floor provides a more intimate work area and a sitting area.
The containers were painted dark charcoal to maintain continuity with the original house and to recede in the shadows of a dense wooded site.
The total area of the studio is 840 sf.
A 3000 sf modern house on the East End of Long Island, in Montauk, New York. It features a fully habitable roof level with a garden and fire pit and views of the Atlantic ocean, Montauk Lake and the Bay.
Addition and transformation of an existing house and an art studio.
A modern rooftop addition to a shingled house on the bay on the East End of Long Island, in Southampton, New York. A fully habitable roof is accessed through a turret-like stairwell. From there one has a panoramic view of the surroundings.
A small modern cabin in the woods in Montauk, consisting three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and living areas, pre-fabricated using three 8' x 20' shipping containers.
The “Hamptons,” the Atlantic side of the Eastern End of Long Island, are known for a seasonal population who live in large homes, often over 7,000 square feet. But it is also home to a year-round population. We were lucky to receive a commission from three clients who needed a home to share while they live and work on the East End.
Our clients recognized the limitations of their budget and laid out programmatic requirements and aesthetic preferences that were inherently compatible with very affordable solutions. Their appreciation for small spaces, in their words, like boat cabins – bathrooms with open showers, single bed bedrooms, and a compact kitchen – made some unconventional design considerations possible.
Located in Montauk, where the amount of affordable housing is limited, we set out to create one of the least expensive new residences on the East End. The site is less than a mile from the marina where many people already live in tiny quarters on their boats, so the idea of smart solutions that make tiny living enjoyable was always on our and our clients’ minds.
For a start, we all agreed that the house should be no larger than 650 square feet, the minimum house size allowed in the Township of East Hampton which encompasses the Village of Montauk.
Based on our prior work in the area, and knowing of the high costs of site-built homes, we felt the need to explore prefabrication. Our initial research let us to the use of three recycled 8’ x 20’ shipping containers retrofitted and finished off-site and shipped to Montauk. Each container is 160 square feet, bringing the total of three containers to 480 square feet. By adding connecting spaces, we achieved the minimum required size.
From here our design challenge was to transform the otherwise claustrophobic space of the containers into intimate but open rooms that form a range of connections to the landscape around them. Each room becomes a window, an opening, or a doorway that creates its own connection with its outdoor surroundings.
In its tiny shell, the home features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen/dining/living room area. The home is organized into three pods with glass connections between them. The connections can be read as two separate tiny rooms maintaining privacy between pods or the connections can be read as one single unit that includes the porch forming a fourth volume. From the porch to the pods to the connectors, we maintained a uniform ceiling height and floor plane.
We staggered the containers to create privacy between the three people living in the home and used glazed connections as transitional and intimate spaces in between. On the axis of circulation (East-West), the containers were developed as perpendicular extensions along a promenade; circulation itself became a shared room. While in the cross axis, each container was developed independently to house its own program.
The containers are insulated on the inside with with closed cell spray foam and clad with finish grade plywood on the walls and ceiling and engineered wood on the floor. The connectors are frameless thermal fin-glass panels. The exteriors of the containers are spray-painted with marine grade paint. All built-ins are supported by the side-walls letting the floor plane be free of any obstruction. A combination of curtains, louvers, and deciduous trees help manage thermal loss and gain.
insta-studio and insta-house
Hamptons, New York
In 2008, MB Architecture embarked on an exploration of very affordable single-family homes and workspaces. And in 2009, we built our first prototype: a double-height artist's studio made of four recycled shipping containers. The project, located in Amagansett, New York, was awarded the American Institute of Architects Peconic Chapter Honor Award for Architecture. Since then, we have taken the double-height, four container model, called the insta_house, to the next level. Completely prefabricated, the two bedroom, two bathroom home includes a full kitchen and a living room; it is fabricated in eight weeks and installed in one day.
Finally, well designed, environmentally conscious pre-fab construction is affordable, very affordable, and now available everywhere in USA.
Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page for more info here.
A modern addition to an existing ranch house in East Hampton, New York.
A design based on a collage of Shaker drawings -- built in 1997.