Head for the Hills

Although many people start in Silver Lake and the Hollywood Hills when hunting for stunning, hillside Modern houses, a sojourn to the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains in the San Fernando Valley reveals an impressive and diverse collection of homes by some of Los Angeles’ best Modern architects.

The post-World War II years brought a period of massive growth which, combined with advances in building and engineering technologies, resulted in the construction of single-family residences on vacant hillside lots that were formerly considered unbuildable. Perched, often seemingly precariously, on the sides of the hills, these houses turn their backs from the streets and look instead out over the Valley below with unobstructed views.

In the 1940s and ’50s, clients turned to some of the biggest names in Los Angeles architecture -– Schindler, Lautner, Kappe, and Dorman, among others -– to find building solutions for difficult settings. In some cases, developers worked with architects to design clusters of hillside houses with relatively modest living space and extravagant views, such as Harry Gesner’s “Boat Houses” and Richard Neutra’s “Platform Houses,” which hang dramatically over hillsides on thin steel supports.

The Waxman and Spanner Houses conform to, rather than defy, their hilly sites, using natural materials and transparent walls of glass to blend with their environment. The de Bretteville-Asimow Houses instead use industrial materials such as corrugated metal, fiberglass, and steel, offering a stark contrast to their wooded setting.

And how does one describe the Struckus House, designed by Bruce Goff? It rises organically from its hillside site like a giant silo with a sideways gaze, its eyeball-shaped windows creeping up its profile.

As you drive up and down the winding streets and admire the feats of architecture and engineering around you, don’t forget to look up. Very often the best views of these houses are not from across the street, but from across the canyon.