Through a series of residential and institutional designs that form an evolutionary sequence of projects, Abramson Teiger Architects has established a path rare within the United States for its sophistication and development, and rare for its maturity and originality even within this ongoing architectural tradition in Southern California. Partners since 2000, Trevor Abramson and Douglas Teiger have expanded their vocabulary of ideas and their repertoire of formal moves, building on their own innovations in increments of invention that have proved additive and cumulative. Their current designs represent a highly enriched modernism, remarkable for its developed notions of space, material, and form, and for the intangible dimension of light. These are buildings that are completed in the experience of living their space and light. in 1994 as principal in Abramson Architects, in a trio of Los Angeles houses that shared similar attributes: medium-sized suburban lots with a conventional format that assumed front and back yards separated by a house acting as both domestic fagade and fence. In keeping with a long Southern California practice that started with the Greene Brothers in Pasadena and R.M. Schindler in West Hollywood, Abramson experimented with a house of his own. Soon thereafter he explored similar ideas in the Sinnott and Bennett residences. In his own house, on a narrow site where the program pushes up against parsimonious side yards, Abramson delved into one of his major themes at the back fagade: he mixed solids and voids and pushed and pulled them spatially to engage indoor and outdoor areas in a reciprocating spatiality. A two-story glass wall, a “solid” fireplace set within it, plays against a blank stucco plane elevated over another glass void. That solid plane, punctured only by a small window, in turn plays off two more voids to the right: an open outdoor room that advances bedroom that recedes in the opposite direction. The Mondrian-esque patterns of the window frames establish a sub-theme of linear elements within the larger volumetric composition. Abramson designed solids and voids with line, plane, and volume. He built up the chimney and fireplace as an independent piece within a glass wall that frames and features the chimney as sculpture.
Limited by the site to developing the front and back fagades, Abramson turned inward where, inventively, he hollowed out a tall, sculptural passage down the middle of the house, in the round, on a more generous site. This limitation proved a valuable opportunity, because by sculpting interior space, he gave the house an interior life: He cleaved the whole volume with a two-story space that centers the house, creating a corridor and stairwell that become the heart of the building. Rooms on both stories open onto this interior court, gathering the family around a receptive rather than dispersive space, one that ambles front to back in a relaxed geometry that establishes an informal atmosphere with an inviting call. Abramson liberated the staircase within this court, creating a sculptural event celebrated by boxed wood steps and the interpenetrating planes of the handrail. This is a house in which family sees each other around a catalytic central space that conditions the encounters toward informality. Family matters.
The Sinnott residence in Brentwood allowed Abramson to move his work into fresh territory. For this house, the architect broke the classical roof shape, designing a vaulted copper roof that has no ridges and tapers at the edges to razor thinness. The house plan is structured on a double geometry: one oriented to the principal view; the other conforming to the orthogonal site while shielding the house from an unsightly Tudor next door. The double geometry fragments the house, so that rooms that would normally be contiguous undergo a mitotic split, breaking into individual volumes separated by tall interstitial spaces topped by skylights. The double geometry and the resulting asymmetrical compositions of solid and voids engender spatial porosity both inside and outside, in x, y, and z dimensions. The house is liberated in plan and section. The architect disciplined the apparently free and fragmented design by basing the construction on a two-foot module in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions.
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The design broke the box inside as well as out. In addition to the roof plane that flies off the orthogonal, cantilevers project the building into the yard; these gestures are confirmed materially by plaster walls that continue from the inside to the outside. Sliding doors at one corner part to give access to steps into the pool. The pool completes the whole layout—inside space flows into the water.
The language of the Sinnott house is an abstract composition of line, plane, and volume, but Abramson developed the abstraction spatially by setting the elements separately in a de Stijl composition that he actively pushed and pulled. The building is composed with a layering strategy within the whole cube, using equal parts form and space. With the porosity, light is cultivated through the introduction of windows and skylights, which wash the forms and highlight the volumes. The vertical section that cuts through the house introduces a rich porosity top to bottom, front to back, yielding a composition whose volumes and voids recall European modernism—in particular, the sensuous, curving walls of early Le Corbusier.
Another project, a five-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot house built in 1995-96, grew from the DNA of Abramson’s two previous houses. This residence, the first of two he designed for Bruce and Paula Bennett, features a poured-concrete frame as a base. Set a half level below grade, the two-bay concrete frame confirms the rich sectional development of the first two houses, and foreshadows more. Above and around this frame, Abramson placed an asymmetrical set of white cubic volumes massed in a composition of solid and void that advances and recedes, into and out of the plane of the fagade. He bracketed the composition vertically with a roof plane that hovers over the composition and laterally with wall planes that sandwich the complex spatial puzzle. Not just a fagade, the composition continues through the house to the back as a series of shifted volumes and planes that create a spatially porous structure, with rooms opening onto rooms in a generous flow.