A small plot of land directly beneath the Hollywood sign on Mulholland Drive could soon be home to a Los Angeles landmark of its own. At least, that’s the hope of Steve Alper, a dentist and native-born Angeleno who purchased the property several years ago.
Now, a panel of judges that included such luminaries as Thom Mayne, Tom Kundig, and Ron Radziner has chosen a winning design called “Ambivalent House,” which was submitted by local firm Hirsuta.
Like other famous LA residences that have pushed the boundaries of residential architecture (John Lautner’s Chemosphere and Frank Gehry’s own Santa Monica residence are two notable examples), Hirsuta’s design defies nearly every expectation of what a home should look like.
Vaguely spherical, with asymmetrical surfaces and small, porthole windows, the home might not even be assumed to be a work of human design at first glance. Hirsuta Principal Jason Payne tells Curbed that’s part of the idea.
“What I would like [observers] to come away with is more a sense of something,” he says. “For example, a sense of strangeness—like, this is a very strange object. Or this is an otherworldly object.”
For Payne, the parameters of the contest, which encouraged bold design choices, suggested an emphasis on the experience of onlookers, as opposed to the home’s occupant. Located on one of LA’s most famous streets, within a stone’s throw of its most famous icon, any project built on the site is bound to capture the attention of residents and visitors alike—simply by virtue of its existence.
To take full advantage of this built-in audience, the team at Hirsuta designed the house with an unusual quirk: it rotates. The slow movement of the home would be essentially imperceptible, but over the course of a year or so, it would spin around in a complete circle. As a result, drivers on Mulholland Drive might glance at the home sometime in spring and find it looking completely different by the fall.
“The idea is that it would be almost subliminal,” Payne says.
But the home’s design isn’t entirely tailored for onlookers. It’s fortress-like structure protects the privacy of occupants even as it invites the stares of tourists seeking a selfie with the Hollywood sign.
The result, as Payne acknowledges, is the complete abandonment of the Southern California indoor-outdoor living concept, but he maintains that the design encourages residents to fully venture outside, rather than simulate the experience with well-framed views of the mountains.
Alper, who chose a design by Italian firm A2.0 Studio di Architettura as his favorite entry in the competition, tells Curbed that he’s looking to “get the dialogue started” to construct a home on the project site.
It’s not clear which design he’ll choose, but even if Hirsuta’s proposal is never built, its truly unique design could influence future residential projects in Los Angeles and beyond.
Asked whether he had considered the reaction from Hollywood homeowners, should the house be constructed in its proposed location, Payne said he was optimistic that the home would be embraced—in spite of its unusual appearance.
“People in LA are some of the most liberal-minded thinkers about architecture,” he said. “And we have our history of experimental architecture here to thank for that.”