Because the geometries were broken rather than whole, and asymmetrical rather than symmetrical, the vocabulary that Abramson was developing yielded a flexibility especially accommodating for hillsides. California geography has challenged modernists since Wright and Schindler, making special demands in the z dimension.
Abramson carried the approach toward spatially porous, formally abstract decorating over to the Porter residence in the Hollywood Hills. The wider, more generous upslope site in this commission allowed the architect to extend the house horizontally into the yard, expanding it laterally with a series of slipped planes that serve as retaining wall, fence, and motor court. The vocabulary of planes and volumes escaped the enclosure of the house proper as it moved into the yard, where it defined and domesticated outdoor precincts. Los Angeles architects, influenced by Wright, Gill, Schindler, and Neutra, had already been blurring the boundary between outside and inside, but Abramson cracked open the box, allowing the parts to spill into the yard and shape a total environment in which the house itself was part of a larger whole. Architectural elements extrapolated into the grounds gave structure to the outdoor spaces. In the previous houses, the tightness of the sites had verticalized the designs, but the Porter property allowed him to pull the volumes laterally. He introduced the notion of horizontally layered strata, with the base of the two-story house designed in contradistinction to the second story, which follows a different formal logic. Pristine white volumes with inset horizontal windows float atop a glassy base, part of which is composed in concrete. Wood was used for the entrance and parking gates, warming the abstract composition outside as much as inside.
In a formal move that recalls the Italian master Scarpa, Abramson began carving the planes with incisions—narrow rectangular voids in the wooded gates, for example—that open the forms and bring a smaller, more intimate scale. The slots allow views in and out, localizing the abstract surface to a particular circumstance, such as a light fixture or a plant. The localizations recall the specificities of Scarpa’s interventions, as the Venetian architect adapted his additions to the existing fabric of older structures.
Abramson was operating within the context of an open and receptive aesthetic that could accept change without compromising character or principle. Materials juxtaposed in shifting asymmetries factored the notion of collage into the composition. The surfaces, however, remained clean and abstract, providing a suitable, gallery-like backdrop for the client’s collection of modern art.
Abramson tested the versatility of this language at an entirely different level in a design for the Elk Run residence, a vacation home in Telluride, Colorado, on 11 acres of forested landscape with long mountain views. In this rural house, the architect explored and expanded the ideas he initiated in tighter suburban contexts, adapting those principles with a different strategy to the landscape.
This was a commanding site that demanded strong architectural presence, even if the program called simply for four bedrooms and 7,500 square feet. Abramson divided the program into three sections, with a master bedroom and guest wings placed at either end of a loft-like living room with open kitchen. He angled the guest wing in an L off the living room, shaping one side of an entry court with a dramatic roof projection. Guests step down the entry passage, which cleaves the living room section from the master bedrooms, splitting an overall shape that would be monolithic and monotonous if left uninterrupted. On the far side of the living room, a continuous wall of windows, with mullions of rust-red steel, faces the view. Recalling the work of his California mentors, Abramson created corner windows that open the interiors to the vista.