The Dune House 1968-69.
4 Ocean Walk.
This quirky house is a standout as you walk the ocean in the Pines. Designed by bohemian boat builder, furniture designer, and architect Peter Asher. Who was inspired by the concrete structures by the Spanish architect Felix Candela. In his own words…
“In 1963, I was a Greenwich village city dweller, immersed in the lifestyle of art, off Broadway theater, sitting down at an empty chess table at the Café Figaro at 2:AM and setting up pieces on the board where eventually a stranger would sit down and without a word, make the first move. (Sometimes, vice versa) I was also taking architectural design courses at night at Columbia University.
/2008/08/22/ the-lost-village-mystique-o f-le-figaro-cafe/ We were renting a summerhouse on Water Island, down the beach from The Pines,and our nightlife was at the Casino in Davis Park.That community abounded with beach-houses designed as one-of a-kind shapes. There was one, where the roof was a pyramid of eight sections with four hips and four valleys, nicknamed “The handkerchief house” as it looked like a handkerchief, held by the center, about to be dropped.. Another, with a tapered hexagonal bedroom tower rising from the middle was, of course, “The lighthouse.” The home I was viewing the beach from had a ‘50’s style V’d prow on the dune and the dwelling next door, a deck built like the extended prow of a tuna boat. One full-moon lit night, I was sitting in the window seat of the Prow home, gazing out at an incredibly beautiful setting of the brilliant moon hanging above a calm ocean, fronted with an expanse of wet low-tide sand bathed in moonlight. At that moment, on what we now sometimes call our “Bucket List” my number one item became designing and building, “hands on,” a unique dune home. In November of ‘62, a “One in two hundred year” storm had combed away most of the oceanfront homes in “The Pines” and oceanfront lots were subsequently selling for $6000. In 1966 I was able to pick up one for $11,200. It had a walk leading up to half a front porch that teetered on the edge of a gouged out strip of former dunes.
Lots on the landward side of the boardwalk were selling for three times that price. The first thing I built was a new entry walk with storage shed (camping tent) The shed was a trial run on stressed skin prefab panels of which I hand carried two for the floor an experimental 1 x 2 build-up of roof work over parabolic walls to get a feel for thickness of the material for the full size house. After two years of mechanical engineering at Bucknell and a design course at Columbia University in 63’ – 64’ I worked in Architect’s offices in Berlin and Florence and then returned home to NYC and tapped my years of boat building and personal furniture handcraft to create an East Village wood-shop, building solid wood furniture inspired by the sixth century Spanish antiques that were being imported into the showrooms of NY.
This was my first experience at self employment and was an awakening of the freedom one experiences at being in charge of their own destiny. Joined by my wife Robin in 1967, we did work for Miles Davis, Herby Mann, Harlan Ellison, Arlo Guthrie, and Tim Hardin. We also experimented with various architectural shapes. The expanded A-frame was from the design course at Columbia.
In contemplating the design for building the dune house, I applied a spatial philosophy I had developed when designing my art gallery project, that being to free-hand draw the flow of movement through the space, locate doors and windows according to access and views and then let that suggest the shape of the building. In my studies of great architects I became enamored with the works of Felix Candela. “…The use of hypar surfaces in shell structures is of course not new, as during the fifties and sixties Felix Candela revolutionized the thin shell concrete hypars in and around Mexico City. As Candela himself put it: ” of all the shapes we can give to the shell, the easiest and most practical to build is the hyperbolic paraboloid. ”
The main advantage of these hypar surfaces is that their doubly curved anticlastic shape can be generated from a set of straight elements. …” Looking at the photos in this book, I observed that the wooden form construction, used to shape the concrete pour, could be refined to build the shell in wood itself and proceeded to apply that concept to the contemplated floor plan. The key element was exposing the east and west views while blocking out the buildings next door on the north and south. This also resulted in what I call “A see-through” house.
The next step was, working with the favored beach view configuration of the “Upside down house” to design the pedestal to support the shell. For this, I laid out a rectangular grid to be tucked under and spaced the posts uniformly so as to tie them together longitudinal with beams on both floor levels. The room layout was then designed to allow all the posts to be intrinsic to a wall. Using 22’creasote impregnated stock, we were able to have them run from the second story floor down to ocean low tide level, which was believed to be able to survive full dune erosion beneath and still have some support in the sand. The ‘beams’ were 2 x 10’s bolted in pairs across the posts, locking the post and beam structure together. Shear resistance was achieved by making all but the door walls in shop fabricated stressed skin panels set between the posts with the outer skin overlapping them.
I had designed the parabolic walls with a curved baseline and not even Candela’s form work had any of that so I was really making thing up as I went along! (I had never worked a single day on home construction, my only experience with framing materials being adding walls to interior spaces.) It was my prior experience as a furniture maker, boat builder and childhood of free-flight model building that gave me the collective background to construct the walls.
Next were the beams, running from a low point in one wall to a higher point in the other, establishing the saddle effect of the hyperbolic paraboloid shape. These were each a trio of nail laminated 2 x 10’s 26’ to 28’ long. There was no way I could use help as it was all observe, cut, place, observe, cut and place so I would walk one end of a 2 x 10 up a step ladder, set it in the wall and then the other end.
I built the walls and the beam system single handed; only bringing in help when the laminated shell pieces were being applied. After extensive calling around, I was able to locate a full unit of 2 x 3 cedar which was delivered by beach truck in one run. There were no nail guns yet so this was all hand spiked with 20d common and the boards needed to be twisted as they progressed from one wall to another. This was done with clamps used for gluing up furniture slabs.
As the shell progressed, we found that the shape created a surface which was widened from the center towards the walls and so we had some 3 x 4 cedar ripped from 4 x 4. I then ripped each of those into two long wedges. When we got to the tight curve over the kitchen area the saw was then set at a 5 degree angle to generate the tight curve.
Once the laminate was complete, the perimeter lines were laid out by eye along the overhanging laminate and cut en-mass. The outer end of the south parabola was hanging out in space and I cut it by rigging a rope to hold with my right hand, the circular saw in the left and reverse rappelled upwards. The saw had enough bite in the wood when not cutting to function as a handle while I released and re-gripped the rope.
Next was the challenge of what material to use for the shell roofing. I had envisioned a white chipped marble application but roof pitches were too steep for that.
Using shingles had not occurred to me until, one night, I literally dreamt of seeing it that way. This was something that needed to be contracted out due to the size and scope and I had never done any of it. When the contractor got to the tight curve over the kitchen his lead man said it was impossible to shingle that section. The crew went off to lunch and when they came back, I had done it. He never spoke a word to me again, even when we shared a crew-cab in winter beach commuting pools.
A wave like walkway (since washed away) proceeded to a hexagonal deck set within the dunes.
In 1974, we sold the house to an investor who rented it to a couple who in turn purchased it two years later.
When we moved back east in 1980 I visited the new owners and this led to them having us spend two years expanding and renovating the building. The owners wanted a larger kitchen, which was achieved by adding headroom to the space underlying the low conical eave.
I cut out three sides of the laminated section of the shell and bent it upward and outward into a higher curved shape and then added more 2 x 3’s to the exposed edged arriving at the new shape which was then supported by an added wall atop the primary beam below.
They also had me add a deck along the east side, connecting the north and south view decks.