The Parabolic Glass House in Northern California Is One Architect’s Utopia in the Redwoods

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By Kate Reggev
In the ’60s, using only materials found on their 400-acre plot of forest in Mendocino County, Charles Bello and his wife built a sustainable ranch—including an undulating glass house.

In the late 1960s, architect Charles Bello and his wife Vanna Rae purchased 400 acres of redwood forest in Northern California and slowly but surely began building 18 structures on the plot (and raising a family to boot).  

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84-year-old Charles Bello left the world of California modernism in the 1960s to embark on his own nature-inspired, architectural journey among hundreds of acres of redwoods in Northern California.

84-year-old Charles Bello left the world of California modernism in the 1960s to embark on his own nature-inspired, architectural journey among hundreds of acres of redwoods in Northern California.

Among the buildings they constructed are the Parabolic Glass House and a small sculpture pavilion, two structures that evolved organically from their site. 

As Bello describes in a recent video by ThirtyThousand, the concept of the Parabolic Glass House was straightforward, and only took about 20 seconds to crystalize: the openings of the house begin where a nearby line of trees hit the sky, and then arch up in a parabolic shape to frame the view in front of them. The shape of the home arose from the site itself.

The wood for the home was harvested and dressed from Bello's property.

The wood for the home was harvested and dressed from Bello's property.

The columns and flooring were also harvested from local trees.

The columns and flooring were also harvested from local trees.

The home, built nearly 20 years ago, was designed so that it was nestled in with its surrounding cluster of trees, barely visible from views above. At the same time, the home’s wide expanses of open glass allowed for Bello and his family to feel deeply connected to the earth and outlying landscape. The buildings, which Bello calls "living sculpture," are the result of a lifelong commitment to design, craft, and forest conservation. 

The doors and views open onto the outlying landscape.

The doors and views open onto the outlying landscape.

The undulating shape of the home forms a parabolic form, giving the house its name.

The undulating shape of the home forms a parabolic form, giving the house its name.

Bello had been an intern for Richard Neutra in the 1950s and also worked for architect Henry Hill and landscape architect Robert Royston. He developed a keen interest in both the materiality of wood and the concrete, undulating forms of Italian architect and engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. With these two interests in mind, Bello set about exploring these concepts on his land, establishing the Redwood Forest Institute in the process. 

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Astounding views fill the glass windows.

Astounding views fill the glass windows.

The house is barely visible from above because it so thoughtfully blends into the surrounding landscape.

The house is barely visible from above because it so thoughtfully blends into the surrounding landscape.

Impressively, Bello designed and built using only materials found on the site, and constructed the buildings himself and with the help of his wife. Today, his vision is to found a small, self-sustaining community that grows its own food, runs on solar power, and generates income through products made from readily available materials. 

Read more about how to get involved at The Redwood Forest Institute.

Bello finds inspiration in the land and nature of the site, and even established the Redwood Forest Institute with his wife Vanna Rae.

Bello finds inspiration in the land and nature of the site, and even established the Redwood Forest Institute with his wife Vanna Rae.

The woven wood ceiling of the gallery houses Bello's wooden sculptures but is a piece of artwork in and of itself.

The woven wood ceiling of the gallery houses Bello's wooden sculptures but is a piece of artwork in and of itself.