The Contemporary Beach House Introduction

Makai Hale, Kauai, Hawaii 2002



This is an archive of information about the contemporary beach house: theory, planning, architecture, eco-design, and green architecture for tropical, sub-tropical or temperate climates.

Most of these sources are available at libraries or as government publications, etc.


Beach House Theory Introduction

Beach House Concepts:


by John Stilgoe

Chapter 1 THE GLIM

"Late afternoon finds her standing at the very edge of the sea, waves just touching her toes, the rising onshore breeze lifting her hair, sunlight glowing against her skin and faded neon bikini. One of the locals, one of the women who bring no accessories to the edge of the world, stares seaward, watching something invisible to the summer people who walk behind her, bertween her back and the dunes. Now and then some inlander stops to follow her stare, focusing and refocusing on the immensity of waves beyond the surf, then gives up and strolls on, content to look a few yards ahead. Only other locals know that the woman watches vastness.

Vastness cheats watchers all slongshore, even locals. Proper vastness, dictionary vastness, lacks edges, stunning eye and numbing brain with boundary-less immensity, with infinite extension. Coastal vastness ends at the horizon, even on the clearest, most colorful, sunniest days that torment eye-shielding beachgoers scrutinizing what only seamen truly know, or feel. Sky and sea meet at the "horizon line," or so newcomers think as they remove sunglasses and squint, determined to see some limit, some line, marking the edge of infinity.

Ocean beaches front extraordinary vastness, opening on encompassed vistas that at first surprise, then unnerve, then bore and bore and bore. However many beachgoers watch swimmers or sailboats or even squint toward the lobsterboat or rare steamship far beyond, few watch the sea for long. To the uninitiated, a boatless sea is simply empty, a visual blankness that not only fails to reward sustained scrutiny but mocks the most experienced of landlubber observers.

How far away is the horizon, the "line" about which inlanders speak so certainly? Mariners and locals offer little immediate aid. At high tide on a clear day, the five-foot, three-inch-tall woman atanding with her toes just touching the water can see the top of something-- say the head of a swimmer-- floating on the surface of a calm sea roughly two and a half nautical miles before her. But that same woman can see the masthead of a sixteen-foot-high sailboat cruising much further off, slightly more than seven miles, in fact, and she can discern the topsails of a sailing vessel with hundred-foot-high masts far further, some thirteen and a half miles away. In perfect weather she might see the tip of an object-- the rim of a volcano-- 328 feet above sea level, almost twice as distant, twenty-three and a half miles beyond her toe-hold at the edge of land, and she cand see the top of an eight-thousand-foot-high mountain a hundred miles away, the last something that makes the feats of Odysseus and other classical navigators far easier to comprehend. Mount Ida in Crete is eight thousand feet high, a wonderful landmark for mariners in small boats, almost as wonderful as the clouds that hover two miles above Polynesian atools, the clouds understood by traditional Polynesian navigators as exclamation points in the kapesani lemetau, the speech of the sea remarked in canoes floating nearly at sea level."


The Stevens House, Malibu, California

This house "goes with the waves," says architect John Lautner. Its wave-like concrete structure consists of two units of similar configuration. Each has a roof in the form of a catenary curve resting on a vertical wall. This shape was chosen not only for visual reasons but because it puts the concrete in compression, preventing cracks.

The units are placed against each other so that the intersecting curves expose elevations having windows. The living room and master bedroom thus gain views to the mountains as well as the beach and one of the children's rooms has a direct outlook on the ocean. This provision of light and views near the middle of the house is one of its best features. A conventional box-like structure on a lot like this one which is 37- aby 110- feet would have major openings only at its ends.


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