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Design 2001

The New Hamptons

In creating a 'moderately priced' housing project in this Long Island haven, some of the nation's most talented designers are rethinking the model of the contemporary home.


Richard Meier and 33 other world-class architects have agreed to design single-family homes for a development in the Hamptons, the once idyllic Long Island summer playground where the rich, famous and the arrivistes they attract have increasingly competed to show how much bad taste money can buy. Meier, architect of the Getty Center and winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, is creative advisor for the Houses at Sagaponac, a project focused on design innovation and a return to moderation in home design.

Although the first of the homes won't begin construction until next summer, the unusual project has the potential to be a what-if-you-gave-a-party-and-invited-the-best-and-the-brightest kind of experiment, which has never been attempted in this country in this way.

Real estate investor Harry J. Brown Jr., who's known as Coco, made a great deal of money in the '80s, when Mulholland Estates was built on 188 acres of barren hilltop above Beverly Hills. He's among the largest property owners in the Hamptons and seven years ago purchased 100 subdivided acres complete with building permits in Sagaponac, three miles from the beach. The lots are sized from 1 1/2 to 3 acres, and the completed homes will cost from $750,000 to $2.5 million, making them practically moderate priced housing, compared with the rest of the neighborhood. The houses, conceived as second residences, will range from 1,800 to 3,800 square feet. The size limitation constitutes a volley against the epidemic of size inflation that has infected luxury home building.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday March 12, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong description--A story in Thursday's Southern California Living about an architectural project in the Hamptons incorrectly identified Richard Rogers. Rogers was on the faculty of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture; he was not the dean.

At Brown's request, New York-based Meier has served as curator for the project, compiling an international list of architects known more for designing museums and other large public commissions than vacation retreats. "At first, I thought I'd invite young architects to participate, but then I felt it would be nice to include some friends of mine who hadn't done houses before," Meier says. "It's become as much of a mix as we could possibly find, a diverse, creative group of excellent designers."

The senior architects Meier recruited include former Harvard Graduate School of Design dean Harry Cobb, who's in his mid-70s but has never designed a private home; Disney favorite Michael Graves; Charles Gwathmey, who designed the Guggenheim Museum addition in New York; Peter Eisenman, who designed the yet-to-be built Holocaust Museum in Berlin; James Ingo Freed, who designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.; and former UCLA School of Architecture dean Richard Rogers. At 37, the youngest architect in the group is South Africa-born Lindy Roy.

Five leading Los Angeles firms will contribute designs--Michael Rotondi and Clark Stevens of Roto Architects, Eric Owen Moss, Stephen Kanner of Kanner Architects, Craig Hodgetts and Hsin Ming Fung of Hodgetts & Fung, and Mark Mack of Mack Architects. All are working for slightly reduced fees, and no one Meier approached turned him down.

"When you get a letter from Richard Meier or Frank Gehry, any of the godfathers to our generation, you have to do what he asks," says Michael Rotondi, 50, a former director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture for 10 years. (Gehry is not involved in the project.)

A number of the architects involved have expressed the hope that this development could serve as a model for future undertakings, providing a different approach to subdivision building.

"Whether this project measures up to its stated ideals, we'll see," says Moss, who designed several unconventional public buildings in Culver City. "But one of the nice things about it is it has stated ideals. Upper-middle income housing hasn't had the participation of those who can be helpful to it. The broader lesson may have to do with developers who always look askance at breaking the system under which they continue to produce work. There's a little bit of pioneering in this, but it's sort of frugal pioneering. If you wanted to enlarge this to the Daly City's or the Santa Claritas of the world, maybe we could make a dent in that picture or alter it."

The brief presented to the architects stressed that budgets and size limitations be respected. The heavily wooded area is surrounded by hundreds of acres of county-owned land that can never be developed. To retain the character of the rural community, Brown urged that the home designs use natural materials that harmonize with the environment. In his communications with the architects, the developer has made it clear that although creativity is encouraged, he wants to build homes that will be livable.

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