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Rialto Contemporary


Designed by Robert Thibodeau of du Architects

This newly constructed, 1850 square foot, two-story, single-family residence located in the Venice Walk Streets, is the home of Yasi Vafai and Robert Thibodeau, principals in charge of duArchitects. Emphasizing efficiency, an open plan, indoor/outdoor living, and natural materials, this project follows the tradition of Southern California modern architecture. Horizontal surfaces, both floors and ceilings, are finished in wood and are separated from vertical surfaces, simple white plaster, by clerestory glass to give the spaces a feeling of lightness and warmth.


The project is located on a walk street near trendy Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, California. Venice is a diverse beach community with a long history as a home for artists and alternative culture. Architects Frank Gehry, Morphosis, Fred Fisher, and Konig Eisenberg built some of their earliest and most important work here, and the Eames' original studio and factory is here.

Often these projects stand side to side with smaller, modest craftsman-style beach bungalows constructed mostly in the 1920's.

The walk streets are unique because the lots front onto a common, five-foot wide, pedestrian only, garden path. Automotive access is from a service alley at the rear of the property. I'm told this was done to save the cost of paving the east-west streets. Because the houses front to a shared garden path there is a lot of "hanging out" on front decks and patios, and maybe even a heightened sense of community.


The flat, rectangular lot is a modest 4,000 square feet. The area was originally coastal marsh, but was drained into a series of canals at the turn of the century. Most of the canals fell into disrepair, and were filled in and paved over. The few that remain were restored and are in the adjacent neighborhood to the south.

Southern California has an extremely mild climate. Because of this, yards are used as extended living rooms to entertain guests. The project was designed following the footprint of the previous structure, to maintain as much rear yard as possible.

The mild climate also allowed us to design the home with large, custom, commercial windows, ideal to cool the house in the summer. Prevailing winds come from the west (ocean) in the afternoon.

The project was planned around two mature sycamore trees at the front of the site. Although the abutting lots are already developed with two-story homes, the trees were kept to minimize the impact of adding a larger structure to the street. The trees are deciduous and provide summer shade. They also give the feeling, while in the upstairs bedrooms, of living in a tree-house.


The neighborhood is zoned for single-family homes and duplexes. Required side yards vary from 3 to 5 feet. The height limit is 25-feet. There is no limitation to the square footage of a project other than the limitations of the site. There is currently no design review process for projects that meet the zoning requirements.


This project is the architect's home. The husband and wife are partners-in-charge of a small, well-established, architectural and design office in Venice. They have a two-year old son. The home includes a master bedroom suite, a child's bedroom, a guest bedroom, 2 3/4 baths, kitchen, dining room and living room.

Indoor spaces expand to adjacent outdoor spaces via decks, balconies and patios. The project was built on a tight budget so the design had to be compact and efficient. The floor levels and ceiling heights vary to maximize the perception of spaciousness.

This project is built in the tradition of Southern California modern architecture. It emphasizes efficiency, an open plan, indoor/outdoor living, and the use of natural, locally produced materials for finishes. Horizontal surfaces, both floors and ceilings, are finished in wood to separate them visually from vertical surfaces, which are finished in simple white plaster. Clerestory glass is used to "float" the roof above the rest of the house. This gives the interiors a feeling of lightness and warmth.


Because of the large openings and cantilevers, the building is designed with a hybrid structural system including tube steel set into deepened concrete footings. Wood and plywood shear walls are used to counteract potential earthquake generated lateral loads.


Our intent was to make this a "green" house by using common sense and good design. Broad overhangs and windows placed for cross ventilation are designed to provide cooling in the summer. Formaldehyde free insulation is used in the ceiling, walls and raised floors. Passive solar and a radiant hydronic system are used to heat the house in the winter.

Other sustainable features include: FSB certified lumber, low e laminated glass, natural and mechanical ventilation, chalkbased nontoxic paints, and a whole house water filtration system. Louvers are used on the east, south, and west elevations to minimize the amount of cooling required in the summer.

The garden is primarily California Native plants, and includes a drip irrigation system.

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