The Sea Ranch Book

By Dan Gregory

The cover of the newly revised -- and definitive -- book on The Sea Ranch, an innovative community on the California coast, shows the landmark Condominium One.

The subtitle of the newly revised edition of The Sea Ranch, by architect Donlyn Lyndon and photographer Jim Alinder says: "Fifty Years of Architecture, Landscape, Place, and Community on the Northern California Coast." It's a surprise to realize that this remarkable exemplar of modern architecture set within a rugged natural landscape is now half a century old.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in residential design -- and a great gift idea! First, the author knows the community intimately. He was part of the architecture firm, MLTW, that designed the famous Condominium One as well as a great many of the original and subsequent houses. The partners are shown in this photo taken at Condominium One by Jim Alinder in 1991, from left to right: Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore (seated) and William Turnbull. 

So Lyndon has himself helped shape the history of The Sea Ranch -- he also has a house there. Second, he and Alinder provide eloquent portraits of more than sixty houses and other structures.

Lyndon reveals that at the beginning, MLTW and the San Francisco firm of Joseph Esherick & Associates (Esherick, Moore, Lyndon, and Whitaker were all teaching at UC Berkeley's Department of Architecture at the time) were given quite different assignments: "Joseph Esherick & Associates were to show how a group of individual houses could be sited next to a wind-breaking hedgerow and to indicate how building forms might work together to become part of the larger environment. Our task at MLTW on the other hand was to demonstrate how larger buildings could be built on a prominent point of open land, exposed completely to the winds and with stunning views in all directions." The Esherick houses dig into the ground and adapt the wind blown form of the hedgerow, while the MLTW Condominium One form a sort of abstract stockade protecting an inner sloping courtyard.

These two firms were responding to landscape architect Lawrence Halprin's original site plan and environmental guidelines. Weathered barns from the original sheep ranch on the site as well as the crisp timber geometries of Fort Ross, the early nineteenth century fur trader outpost just a few miles away, provided additional inspiration. These buildings became influential as a way to show how contemporary architecture could be both modern and regional, and in fact could vividly dramatize and enhance the wonders of nature. 

After sections on the early history, chapters are organized around the different responses that each of the selected houses takes to the landscape: from houses as compounds and clusters, to houses that connect to views and earth forms, to houses that enfold. There is even a memoir by Lawrence Halprin (now deceased) about his forty year relationship to the site and his own house there.

The photographs show the buildings and the landscape to great effect and make one realize once again what a special environment it was in the first place, and -- thanks to imaginative planning and design -- so remains.

To see our historic Sea Ranch Cottage Plans by William Turnbull, click here.

Mon Dec 09 00:00:00 PST 2013