Pentagram might be the world’s best-known multidisciplinary agency, but the architecture arm of the globe-spanning design house doesn’t usually get much of a look-in compared to the enormous portfolio of award-winning corporate identities and publications. That’s surprising, because founding partner Theo Crosby had been a key mover and shaker on the 1960s scene. Recent signs are that the agency is increasing its architectural reach. The current roster of architecturally trained partners is at an all-time high and includes William Russell, Lorenzo Apicella, Daniel Weil and James Biber. Biber’s recent design for a new oceanfront residence in Montauk, Long Island, shows that Pentagram can turn its hand to pretty much anything.
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Set low against the horizon, the project consolidates two adjacent lots into one single residence, comprising of a main house and a guesthouse. Each has a distinct design identity, drawing broadly on the vocabulary of form, plan and materials established by the post-war Case Study houses in California. The site is spectacular, with the view from every window dominated by the Atlantic Ocean.
The main house is expansively arranged across a single storey, save for a small writing studio, basement gym and cinema. The interior is bold and modern, playful rather than po-faced in its use of colour, with iconic pieces of furniture, large sculptural forms and framing devices set into walls and windows to highlight the vista beyond.
The master suite, for example, contains a curving white shower enclosure that breaches the ceiling to form a rooflight. Curved and wavy forms crop up amongst the strictly rectilinear structural steel, glass and wood pavilion, joined by carefully selected patterned fabrics and floor tiles to create a kind of pop modernism that isn’t afraid to present a smorgasbord of delectable forms.
In plan view, the house is a collision of rigid modernist geometry and curving, Baroque forms. All this would have fallen flat without exceptional craftsmanship, evident in the bespoke cabinetry and the underground screening room, with its science fiction-inspired lighting harking back to the golden age of cinema design.
The adjacent guesthouse is raised up on sturdy steel beams, sailing over the garden and jutting out to sea like a jetty. The architect explains his thoughts of the structure as being ‘the second floor of the main house, dislocated to the entry side of the site.’ Here it forms a boundary to the ‘large, landscaped courtyard hovering 75 feet above the ocean.’
The guesthouse form is also a nod to that classic icon of Americana, the motel, with an open deck leading to the two suites, living room and dining area. A twisting yellow steel staircase leads down to the garden courtyard while the far wall is clad with a wood screen, funnelling the view away from neighbouring houses and down to the beach.
Sliding glass walls open up the entire house to the elements. At the same time, heated floors and high spec glass protect the occupants from the worst of the Atlantic’s weather systems. Bucking the trend for quaint clapperboard and shingles, the Montauk house makes the case for a return to a modernism infused with craft, taste and a sense of place.