Light, Place, and Time
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
During his 25-year career, David Coleman has utilized countless styles, influences, and locations in his distinguished work. Over time, however, the Seattle architect has whittled the practice of design down to three important variables: light, place and time. The architect puts these three basic design principles to work in his project entitled the Zigzag house, a hillside residence nestled in the woods overlooking the picturesque Puget Sound. His design for the home achieves a rare balance of privacy and openness and features modern forms with lasting traditional approaches, both inside and out.
Coleman is particularly driven by the challenge of how to elegantly but unobtrusively bring natural illumination deep into spaces. To achieve this, the architect constructed the home’s south wall out of a translucent polycarbonate material, which flooded the space with a diffused glow. “The brightest part of the home is actually the center, which is the opposite of how homes are traditionally [designed],” Coleman explains. “That notion of trying to channel light into the center of the building and create this unexpected burst of natural light—especially in this climate—it’s just a great device.” The Zigzag house, even on a gloomy day, feels bright. At night, the translucent wall makes the house glow from within, humanizing the walled-off design to its neighbors.
The homeowners, both immigrants from Southeast Asia, brought two main requests to Coleman: they wanted privacy and usable outdoor space. “They had a very different idea from their own cultural background of how the house should relate to the neighborhood, how they wanted to live in it, and the relationship of the building to the land,” the architect recalls. As a result, Coleman concocted a garden wall and garage that shields the home from the street modestly, and then gives way to three distinct rectilinear wings that jog into each other at angles like arms or legs—hence the Zigzag name. “The idea was that from the street the building feels understated and modest,” Coleman explains, “but as the procession of entry is revealed, one sees what it’s all about: going from public to private.”
Initially intended as a renovation, the project was put on hold when the clients discovered the original house could not structurally support expansion. Coleman quickly produced a ground-up design, but it was shelved for two years before construction began—a unique situtation as most architects aren’t allowed the opportunity to ruminate on their work before it’s completed. He used the additional time to think about the structure a bit more in depth. “We were able to critique what we’d done originally and distill those ideas down to their essence to come up with a strong concept that’s really singular.”
Text by Brian Libby