As part of our continuing architect Q+A series we tracked down DEX Studio‘s principal Glen Bell. Here he talks about his residential and commercial work and the impact growing up in Los Angeles has had on his work. Bell’s Redcliff Residence (above) was part of the recent Dwell on Design house tours.
You opened your own Venice, CA-based design practice, DEX Studio in 1999 after you graduated from with a degree in architecture from USC. How do you think being based in California has influenced your work? Growing up in California has had a tremendous impact on my design approach. My earliest memories are of my home life around a large patio, a pool, and a yard full of fruit trees.
This connection between interior and exterior spaces continued throughout grade and high school. The school I attended had a campus designed in part by A. Quincy Jones. The grounds were a series of spaces that were centered around small courtyards. The post and beam architecture included vast walls of glass and flat roofs nestled within eucalyptus trees. To this day, my designwork centers around connecting interior and exterior spaces. This sensibility has developed into a philosophy of interacting with the environment through designed forms. My schooling at USC focused on finding ways to define shelter and its interaction with the environment. This includes using natural elements around a site to inform, animate, and provide comfort for the user.
The Redcliff Residence was designed for John Shields. a concept site planner for theme parks and his partner, artist/illustrator Nat Reed. The property is steeply sloping with Nat’s studio at street level and the more private sections of the house travelling up the hill. How did the sloping sight effect your design? The site offered an opportunity to maximize desirable views and bring in a better quality of light for the owner. The existing home had all of the elements of a modern design including a minimal geometry and extensive use of glass. Unfortunately, the two buildings were originally sited to maximize the square footage, not to create the best space for the home-owner. In addition, the existing windows let in too much heat, glaring light, and unattractive views of neighboring houses. These factors made the program more complex and rich. It developed in a way to use the whole site to connect a series of outdoor spaces with the existing and remodeled architecture. We took advantage of the topography of the site to highlight the best city and neighborhood views, while screening less attractive areas.
We implemented overhangs and operable glazing to reduce the heat load and glare on the interior space. We then provided a passive cooling system to draw airflow up from the lower spaces of the house into the second floor, thereby cooling the entire house. The owner’s landscape design softens the geometry of the architectural elements through animated movement of leaves, plants, and flowers. Inside the home, no two rooms are alike in view, light quality, or orientation. You are compelled to move from space to space throughout the day to take advantage of what each space has to offer.
Was there a conscious decision to separate the live and work spaces on the property? The accessory space on site helped the decision to keep the scale of the house modest and to separate the uses between work and live. The distinction is made more clear when you leave the home and travel through a landscaped walkway to get to the work studio at a lower elevation. It’s not a bad commute.
How does the use of texture in this home – with its detailed exterior screens, timber-lined internal walls connect to your larger body of work? I always work with texture. We prefer working with natural materials that express an honesty and quality through their imperfect attributes.
We are designing for our clients who are unique and idiosyncratic. Our designs take advantage of those idiosyncrasies by reaching all of our senses. At the Shields residence, we used a lot of wood. The exterior wood screens were intended to animate and articulate the tall street façade. As the sun casts its light on the surface, there is a shadow play that changes throughout the day.
Even when we work on commercial spaces, we try to impart the same signature feel. At our most recent restaurant, The Tripel, which opened in April in Playa del Rey, we created a feature wall, clad in reclaimed wood with excerpts from an ancient Sumerian hymn on beer-making routed out. It runs the length of the restaurant and creates an element that is both graphic and textured.
Another example of our texture work is at the outdoor patio at Rose Café in Venice. We designed the space around custom redwood benches, which are built into a screen of mangaris wood slats that wrap up a structural framework. The interplay between the different materials as well as the positive and negative spaces between the wood slats creates a rhythmic pattern.
We have also been working with the team at SugarFISH on their sushi restaurants. Our first restaurant with them was in Brentwood and it is still one of my favorites. At that location, we designed a wall covering that includes over 3,000 individually cut 3-inch by 3-inch cubes of Douglas fir that subtly vary in depth. The wall extends over forty-five feet in length and creates a rippling effect that mimics a breeze passing over water. By using Douglas Fir for the cubes, the wood’s understated end grain becomes a form of natural ornamentation that reveals itself without requiring stain or paint.
Lastly, what inspires you in your work? I have always been inspired by other design disciplines. Textiles for modern fashion or primitive arts influence the surfaces that wrap my spaces. Williams and Tsien Architects build with strong elemental materials like concrete, bronze and steel while making apparent the more fluid qualities of the materials. (Their Long Island Residence pictured below).