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Contemporary hillside dwelling in San Francisco

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48 Gravatt Drive Residence is located in the hills of Berkeley, California overlooking the entire San Francisco Bay Area offering panoramic views from every room and vantage point. Designed and owned by Charles Debbas of  Debbas Architecture, the house is sunken down into the hill, allowing for direct level access to a backyard and opens up a generous entry courtyard to the house as well as a series of level gardens as one makes their way through the house, challenging the notion of perched hillside home, detached and offering no direct access and dialog with the land and their surroundings. The whole western facade slides open, making the indoor spaces one with the Bay.

The main idea behind the concept was to puncture and carve simple volumes with glass, views and materials and sculpt light and space into a soul enriching experience, one that, like a sundial, constantly redefines the character of the house, day to day and hour by hour. Although modern, it conveys feelings of something very familiar through the choice of materials, colors, day lighting and the size and balance of the spaces within and without. In defiance to the belief that contemporary homes are cold and uninviting, the house is warm, very intimate and most of all quiet in every sense of the word.

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Solar and sustainable issues were incorporated into the design by sinking of the structure into the earth to engage the insulation properties of the land. Light shelves were incorporated into the design on the west facade (view facade) to prevent direct sun and heat from entering the house while enjoying uninterrupted views of the Bay.

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The house exterior was designed to maximize the use of renewable materials. The cladding panels on the garage portion are concrete fiberboard (green) from Switzerland, the house itself is clad with resin fiberboard that is made to look like wood also renewable, from Holland. Most decks are tiled with ceramic slats the look like wood (again to minimize the use of real wood).

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The roof is powder coated metal and most of the trim is anodized aluminum to match the giant doors facing the view. The architect tried to make the house as “green” as possible, but his main goal was to make it as maintenance free as possible, considering the western exposure. All of the exterior materials require only a power wash every once and a while. No painting, warping, or discoloration.

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Photos: Cesar Rubio and Nic Lehoux

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