David Jameson has made modernity the reference point of his architectural research, and his home in the woodlands of Bethesda, designed halfway through the 20th century by Charles M. Goodman - an architect known for the production of experimental residences in the Washington suburbs, and for his fertile career of research in the field of aluminium and prefabricated construction - was in a certain sense the perfect setting for this elective affinity.
Jameson and his family were already happily settled in their glass house in the forest, and they were happy with its history, its author and its qualities. But one day, during a winter skiing vacation in Utah, Jameson got a call from one of his neighbors, saying that an ice storm had felled a large poplar, which had crashed onto the house, demolishing the roof and damaging the whole construction.
Due to the extensive state of ruin, it was no longer possible to follow the usual logic of restoration; the idea of reconstructing the house in its original figure was also abandoned, to avoid falling into the trap of the false copy. Jameson thus set out to design a new house for himself and his growing family.
A house that would be a tribute to its predecessor in terms of material experimentation and the relationship between interiors and landscape, but would also represent a sort of ‘self-portrait,’ in keeping with the famous motto of Curzio Malaparte, who defined his villa at Capo Massullo, magically perched on a cliff of the island of Capri, as “a home like me.”
With this inspiration, Jameson – accustomed to daring compositional inventions that include references to molecular structures or figures not belonging to the conventional architectural canon – decided to make room for the experiential qualities of his past life, making the form reflect emotional memories rather than functions to be performed. Recollections of childhood emerged as guiding principles. A dark pond near the family home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has been translated in the cladding of part of the new facade with panels of rippling steel.
“It was dark, mysterious, and murky,” Jameson recalls. “I wanted to create something that captured those ephemeral qualities of water – like the memory of steam or fog coming off the pond.” The new construction stands out for the double-face treatment of the facades. Towards the entrance the front is broken down into two volumes of different height, connected by glazings, forming a compact arrangement of burnished steel bands, resembling big bricks with which to shape ‘liquid’ and iridescent walls.
Like the surface of a pond, they change their appearance across the hours of the day and the seasons, reflecting the landscape. The inner facade, on the other hand – following and closing on three sides the large swimming pool facing the woods, together with the independent pavilion on two levels – is composed of a series of stacked glass volumes, forming a light, transparent work of architecture that thrusts outward, while projecting the domestic dimension into the flourishing, dense natural setting.
The large two-story living area incorporates the dining zone, flanking the kitchen, while five bedrooms are placed on the upper level. Dark wood (Sapele, an African wood comparable to mahogany) covers the structural pillars, while raw cedar, still bearing saw marks, has been used to clad most of the ceilings and some internal walls. Pale stone slabs create a sort of ‘platform’ in the formation of the floors of the house, explicitly extending to the outdoor zones and poolside.
The metal staircase leading to the basement and the upper level of the nighttime zone is like a burnished ribbon, an intentionally rugged feature, like the cedar wood of the facings that forms a counterpoint to the careful workmanship of the dark Sapele and the marmorino surfaces that wrap the two-story kitchen space. A “house like me” which Jameson has aptly christened the Vapor House, emphasizing the mutable impression of the reflections on the facade, which combines the precision of compositional logic with the variable impact of emotions, nature and memory.
Project David Jameson Architect with Patrick Mcgowan, Alex Stitt, Alexandra Wojno - Photos Paul Warchol