E4 Architects Brings New Life to a Nyberg & Bissner Mid-Century Modern Classic
Pasadena, California—Los Angeles-based E4 Architects recently completed an artful renovation and addition for a light post and beam mid-century modern house originally designed in 1954 by renowned Pasadena firm Nyberg & Bissner Architecture & Engineering. Originally known as the Sechler House, the open and airy cruciform plan and design presented E4 with the unique opportunity to work with a mid-century classic.
But beyond the redesign, this is the story of how two architects, spanning different generations, came to be connected through their experiences with one house. It is also the story of the continuing legacy of mid-century Los Angeles modernism and its relevance to contemporary architectural practice.
Soon after E4’s redesign was completed in 2012, the son of Harold Bissner, Jr., partner on the original 1954 design, saw photographs taken by architectural photographer, Susanne Hayek on her website and emailed her: “Wonderful photography and nice updating on the part of Mr. Engs. I’ll pass this onto my dad who continues to practice at age 87! Nice to see some homes modernized as opposed to torn down.”
Once the connection was made, Ned Engs, principal and founder of E4, reached out to Mr. Bissner and they arranged to meet. As they walked the house together in March Mr. Bissner turned to Engs and said, “You did a very nice job.”
“I realized he hadn’t seen the home in decades,” said Engs. “He shared thoughts on his design and memories of his career. It was truly enlightening.”
By taking advantage of the existing design language E4 was able to create something contemporary and adventurous without being ostentatious. This was important for the historical character of the house and the neighborhood—there is a Green & Green home right across the street. It was also in keeping with the character of the Nyberg & Bissner design.
Mr. Bissner told Engs and the current owners how the original client was a missionary returning from China. “She wanted a simple, comfortable home connected to the outdoors,” says Bissner. “She was a widow,” he adds. “The husband had died over there and she just wanted a nice space for her and her son to come back to.” The house stayed in the family until the son’s death and had been virtually untouched since its original construction. When Engs found the house in 2011, it had fallen into disrepair but still showed great promise.
E4’s extensive renovation and second story addition sought to highlight and complement the original home’s clean and efficient spaces, structure, and finishes. The primary strategy for the added second floor was to highlight the cruciform layout of the house and the dramatic sweeping roof gables. The light-filled addition, a painting studio for the client, was thus conceived of as the fifth “living gable” to complement the original design’s four prominent clerestory gables. With the original Nyberg & Bissner design, the dramatic sweeping roof seems to fly above the house. In similar fashion, E4’s addition, utilizing a light tube steel structure and glass, appears to float above the original house. “It’s a light touch,” says Engs. “We wanted to do something that would be more than just a matching addition.”
The result is a singular house that, while retaining the spirit and character of the original, also builds upon it and adds new layers with up-to-date systems, materials, and spaces. The original clerestories became the inspiration to enhance the intrinsic Los Angeles indoor-outdoor aesthetic and functionality. A sliding glass wall seemingly dematerializes the house on its garden side. The front door was widened and hung on off-center pivots to complement an existing large picture window in the living room. The second story addition presents seamless butt-joined corner glazing and brings in natural light to illuminate the new “floating” steel and wood stairs.
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Before _ street view looking south east
After_ street view looking south east
Living room garden looking north east
Living room garden looking west
Living room- Entry & Den
Stairway @ front entrance & Den
Study and Guest bedroom
Kitchen Dining and Living areas
2nd floor stair landing