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Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Text: Thomas Shess                   Site: California Gold Coast: San Diego County                   Photography Holt Webb
NOW-ISM IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY--"A work very much of the moment” is how San Diego architect Wally Cunningham describes his residential tour de force.  “It isn’t relic architecture, some romance of the past,” he says.

If the present is a stripe of imagination much like sea meets sky, then the 7,000-square-foot, poured-in-place concrete masterpiece Cunningham has created on a bluff 90-feet above a section of San Diego County’s Gold Coast is a momentary blur.

When we refocus, we see a portrait of the future. Cunningham has launched us into space toward a much-awaited new genre of architecture called nowism. The word is as fresh as Cunningham’s vision.

He has blasted away our conventional thinking about residential architecture. Gone are the picket fence, yard, porch, living room, dining room and the kitchen overlooking the backyard. In Cunningham’s view, the old sense of room divisions are erased.

Freedom from walls
His clients grasped the concept of openness and emboldened their architect to create a grand home with the freedom of a giant Manhattan loft, but site it on a sandstone pedestal rising above another defining line—where land meets sea.

Indoor/outdoor pool
Cunningham sees V-shapes as arrows to the future. Steel beams, encased in silvery aluminum and enamel, cross the house lengthwise to create a bow pointing toward the ocean. Entry to the house is through a courtyard that’s an architectural kaleidoscope of shapes, sounds, textures and patterns. In daylight, the lighting patterns are natural. At night, the scene is crisscrossed with illusionary patterns created by installed lighting.

V-Shaped bath
At the front door, on the home’s midlevel, there’s an astonishing reflecting pond that flows toward you and falls away from a vanishing edge. From there, you see through the house to the Pacific Ocean.

Upper main level
V-shaped ramps lead to the top of three levels, where Cunningham has situated the main living quarters. Here, a stunning floor-to-ceiling glass wall show- cases the sea. Throughout the home, Cunningham has configured areas of exploration, with openness as the constant. Even the closets in the master bedroom suite are without doors.

Overhead skylights create light patterns as abstract as any of the contemporary art collected by the sophisticated homeowners. But even a stunning Manny Farber abstract looks antique, compared with the sleek lines of the architecture.

Living room
With this residential design, Cunningham shows we no longer need to be constrained with traditional floor plans. We can configure our new homes by using our needs, dreams and lifestyles as guideposts.

Do we really use our living rooms? Is Grandmother’s parlor needed? Why not embrace the great room? Create the architecture to envelop your
distinct lifestyle. That is what Wally Cunningham is saying in this seaside work.

At night, stars are visible from the living room in this residence, and we view them as if we’re in a domed cockpit, rocketing off to the future. Cunning- ham’s new work is a stellar waiting room, a guide- post, a “now” art space where we can sit and dream in any direction—or dimension.
This work first appeared in San Diego Magazine


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