An Architectural Feat in Silicon Valley Tames a Rocky Landscape
Almaden Valley, a landscape of undulating hills, oak trees, and meadow in San Jose, California, presented both a challenge and opportunity for landowners Brian and Mary Haas. Their 6-acre plot of land offered panoramic views of the valley to the south and a quarry mountain peak to the north, the same sandstone quarry that built Stanford University, where Brian earned his PhD in aeronautics and astronautics. Building a house that fit the contours of the site, however, would require ingenuity and technical mastery. Luckily, the Haas couple did not lack either. Architect Amy Davis and interior designer Heidi Smith (both members of the family), Tony Yaconelli of Pacific Builders, and Brian and Mary themselves collaborated to build a Prairie Craftsman home that sits in harmony with the land and views.
For design inspiration, Brian and Mary turned to fellow Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright. His architectural signature is apparent in the residence’s strong horizontal lines, dramatic eaves, and cantilevered roofs. During the planning stages, Brian manipulated a 3D rendering of the house to hew closer to his vision. A key addition were the clerestory windows that give the roof a floating appearance, another nod to Wright’s style.
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"The clerestory windows complicated the design of the house. We made it impossible to give shear strength, so we had to build the house as a steel skeleton, almost like an airplane," says Brian, who worked at the NASA Ames Research Center and is now in the semiconductor equipment industry. The steel infrastructure prevents the house from moving in an earthquake, contributes to the open floor plan, and—most importantly—supports the clerestory windows in the main hall and office. Continues Brian, "I wanted the ability to bring light in at any angle, any time of the day."
"He would have built the entire house out of glass if he could have," says Mary.
In the Haas residence, the windows are so complex as to comprise their own architecture within the larger project. The originally specced manufacturer balked at the task, so Yaconelli introduced the homeowners to Kolbe Windows & Doors, whose craftsmanship carried the visionary plans to fruition. In the living room, state-of-the-art corner windows frame expansive views of Almaden Valley, and 10-foot-tall folding doors accordion open to a large outdoor deck. The inverted corner windows in the master bedroom frame a stately oak tree, and pull-out Japanese shoji screens provide privacy. "We’re only three minutes from the city of San Jose, and yet we’re out in the country," says Mary, who enumerates the wildlife: great horned owls, coyote, bobcats, deer.
Because the builders were working with unrelenting materials like concrete and steel, there was no room for error. "Many of the windows were asymmetrical or curved," explains Yaconelli. "Sashes, mullions, and trim had to align perfectly, and all the pieces had to be precisely detailed and fabricated for fit. All the planning paid off: when the parts came together it was really incredible."
"The house reads as one beautiful gem where all the parts connect."
The rich product offering of Kolbe Windows & Doors enabled Brian and Mary to choose red aluminum exteriors for the windows, which is easy to maintain and creates a stunning contrast to the dry stacked stone walls. Fir wood interiors, however, cultivate a warm and inviting environment within the home. The building’s material palette emphasizes this fusion of indoor and outdoor living: the stone, cedar siding, wood trim, and steel railings that form the exterior also continue inside.
Kolbe Windows & Doors allowed for an impressive degree of versatility and freedom in the design of the windows and gridlines. Not only were Brian and Mary able to install the complex corner and inverted windows they had envisioned, but they also benefited from customizable divided lite patterns, colors, and materials. "An enormous effort went into making it work with the wood, steel, concrete, and stone components," says Yaconelli. "The house reads as one beautiful gem where all the parts connect."