General

4/Way House, by Deegan Day Design

4/Way House, by Deegan Day Design

This article appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of ARCHITECT.

On Nov. 2, 1993, the Old Topanga Fire broke out to the northeast of Malibu, Calif., scarring nearly 20,000 acres of surrounding land, killing three people, and reducing some 388 structures, including many of the residences along Skyhawk Lane in Topanga, to ash. The incident sent Skyhawk’s property values plummeting through the late 1990s, making an empty plot overlooking Santa Monica Bay affordable for Joe Day, AIA, and Nina Hachigian, a young couple enamored with the coastal surroundings. “It was literally a fire sale when we got it,” says Day, leader of the Los Angeles firm Deegan Day Design. After nearly a decade of planning, permitting, and designing, Deegan Day began constructing a 2,250-square-foot, two-bedroom, single-family project on the lot in 2008, working on it incrementally when Day, Hachigian, and their growing family could shoulder the cost and logistics required. Now, 14 years later, the nearly completed 4/Way House stands as a physical embodiment of the evolving conversation surrounding managed retreat and the ethics of building on land that, having burned once, will likely burn again.

When Day and Hachigian first bought the land in the late ’90s, many U.S. conversations around California wildfires—and humanity’s hand in their increased frequency and intensity—were different. “Part of our take on it was, [Topanga] had burned in ’93, so it probably wouldn’t burn again,” Day recalls. “In retrospect, it was a pretty naive way to look at it. It was a slow realization that [a fire threat] would likely be something we’d face at some point in the future.”

Deegan Day baked that realization into each element of 4/Way House’s design through four rotation strategies, which inspired the project’s name. The first rotation is a planimetric rotation approximately 18 degrees off the cardinal north-southeast-west to the southeast, toward the Santa Monica Bay view. The second rotation involves truss configurations that give the house its angular envelope, opening the house toward the view while providing what Day calls a “faceted fire blanket for the house.” The third rotation nods to the carport—a Topanga-required design element to aid firefighters—that tilts 90 degrees upward, doubling as a movie projection screen; and the fourth references an internal ruled-surface rotation that governs much of the cabinetry and the transition between floors, Day explains.

Disaster-proofing also drove the material selection and project orientation. Poured concrete retaining walls support trusses clad in standing-seam RheinZink, effectively fireproofing and rustproofing the exterior volume. “What we’re trying to do is set it up so that the house itself, and anyone involved in protecting it, is well served by it,” Day explains. Sited along a sloping ridge on the property, 4/Way sits below upslope neighbors, positioning the structure as the first line of fire defense for the Skyhawk Lane community. “A lot of the rationale for the house has to do with the idea that now we’re the outpost,” Day says. “If you can defend our property, you are defending five houses up the street.”

The home also provides a unique, almost archaeological snapshot of an architect’s evolution and interests. Although the project does contain design moves that Day wouldn’t necessarily make again—notably some exposed steel and concrete—it is modular and governed by a rigorous 8-foot grid that stems from the dimensions of the 8×4 birch plywood found inside the project. The house is built “like a big piece of furniture,” Day says. The kitchen and dining area flow into a conversation pit defined by an enormous, waffle-shaped grade beam, and the downstairs bathroom contains an Acorn prison toilet and sink combination unit, pointing to Day’s study of prison system architecture.

Today, 4/Way house is “almost complete,” Day says. A few finishing touches on landscaping remain, but the project is very much “within its setting,” says Taiyo Watanabe, a designer at Deegan Day. “It really does work with its surroundings.” Day often thinks about what will happen if those surroundings burn again, hoping that the house works as designed and “wouldn’t imperil people to protect it.” The more he thinks about it, the more he doubts considering efforts to rebuild. In that case, the concrete and RheinZink husk would remain, eventually becoming an artifact in a different kind of archaeology.

PROJECT CREDITS
Project: 4/Way House, Topanga, Calif.
Client/Owner: Joe Day and Nina Hachigian
Architect: Deegan Day Design, Los Angeles. Joe Day, AIA, Yo Oshima, Taiyo Watanabe, Sonali Patel, Bonnie Solmssen, Mark Lyons, Felicia Martin, Jakub Tejchman, Tanja Werner, Eva Fernandez-Villegas, Michelle Paul Toney, Noel Williams
Interior Designer: Deegan Day Design
Mechanical Engineer: CW Howe Partners
Structural Engineer: Gordon L Polon Structural Engineering
Civil Engineer: Sam Samara
Construction Manager: Chris Riley
General Contractor: Kent Snyder Construction
Landscape Architect: Dry Design
Metal Fabricator: Bank Welding, Metal Fabricator
Cutsom Furniture: Chris Sheppard
Custom Furniture: Michele Liu
Graphic Design: Ninotchka Regets
Size: 2,250 square feet

MATERIALS AND SOURCES
Appliances: WOLF, Range, Hood; GE MONOGRAM, Refrigerator, Microwave, Dishwasher; LG, Washer/Dryer; Bathroom Fixtures: TOTO, Toilet; ACORN ENGINEERING COMPANY, Toilet; KOHLER, Sink, Faucet, Towel Bars; HYDROSYSTEMS, Tub; KWC, Shower Valves/Trims; SPEAKMAN, Shower Head
Countertops: RichLite
Exterior Wall Systems: RHEINZINK
Fabrics and Finishes: SUNBRELLA
Flooring: McNICHOLS, Decking
Furniture: Custom Plywood Furniture; Custom PANELITE Furniture; Custom Metal Furniture
HVAC: YORK
Kitchen fixtures: KWC, Faucets; KOHLER, Sinks
Lighting: HALO, LED Downlights; ELITE LED LIGHTING, LED Strip Lights; DELTA LIGHT, Exterior Downlights; WEVER & DUCRE, Exterior Lights
Metal: RHEINZINK
Photovoltaics or other Renewables: GRAPE SOLAR
Plumbing and Water System: NORITZ, Tankless Water Heater
Roofing: RHEINZINK
Windows and Doors: FLEETWOOD USA, Windows and Sliders; BRISTOLITE, Skylights; PANELITE, Interior Slider; VALLI&VALLI, Door Levers, Locks

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