Beverly Hills, California

As more architects get their hands literally dirty with the design-build process, this form of project delivery is resulting in some quite elegant structures. “The architect should be in charge,” says Noah Walker, whose Los Angeles firm recently completed an 8,000-square-foot house in a remote section of Beverly Hills. Walker, who has a contractor’s license as well as his architectural one, likes determining exactly how the scheme comes out.

The firm, founded 2009, was asked by a client to come up with a design for a 3.5-acre site that included a guesthouse where the client would live while the poured-in-place concrete main house was being completed. (The client sold the compound last summer to a Chinese media entrepreneur and his family.) Since the land came with 130 protected live-oak trees, Walker needed to design around their leafy presence. He did so by taking advantage of the rugged topography with a parti that gradually spills down a slope: the entrance, garage, and living and dining levels are located at the top, while the four bedrooms, plus gym, media room, and office of the main house are below. To make sure the lower level receives ample light, Walker pulled apart and cranked the plan, organizing one wing around a courtyard carved out of the terrain. 

The concrete structure allows long-span spaces and also helps the house meet seismic codes, offer strong acoustical insulation, and provide planted terraces and a vegetated roof deck for the occupants. (The roof over the kitchen/dining and living area employs steel and wood framing.) To obtain sandblasted or smooth finishes, the team used varied kinds of medium-density overlay (MDO) formwork for the concrete pour. Inside, walnut panels give the interiors warmth, while ample glazing ushers in dramatic views.

Walker developed an enthusiasm for the design-build process when he started working for Gluck Partnership in New York, a firm at the forefront of putting designers in charge of construction. An alumnus of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to join the design-build practice of Marmol Radziner before going out on his own. As Walker explains, “Doing your own construction influences the way you think about design. You have to be more responsible since you’re in charge of bringing it into the world.”