A House on A Hilltop

The project sits on a focal point on a Bel-Air hilltop. Raising the design plateau one story afforded the owner views of the Pacific Ocean, therefore a split-level design was introduced to allow gradual ascent to the top of the roof with little effort. A central “void” is created with bridging stairs to allow sunlight and visual connection to the lowest levels of the building. The basement is buried, with a daylight condition to allow a courtyard for the lower bedrooms. Split level design to conform to the topography encased in an automotive inspired monocoque shell. Breaking the mass to conform to the topography with a split-level design and concealing the basement level as a vegetated plinth, reduced the visual impact of a three-story building. The landscape design emboldened the tree canopy coverage as well as providing visual privacy for the neighbors.

Exterior View ©Renee Parkhurst

The project gently lands a dynamic building on top of a buried podium that replicates the natural topography that existed prior to the area being subdivided for development. This hollow post-war neighborhood has been transforming gradually, overtaken by recent developments that rely on size, rather than spatial quality. The concept set out to reduce the massing of a rather large project in order for it to lodge within the neighborhood proportionally. It proposes an alternative model within the confines of stringent regulations.

This project engages an exercise in spatial relationships to accelerate the programs of the house. It utilizes the split-level design to follow the topography of the hill, and to connect the floor half-story plates. The plates form adjacencies, both visual and functional, thus allowing twice the utility of an otherwise compartmentalized organization.

Exterior View ©Renee Parkhurst

The project’s aesthetic was directed by streamline automotive design which, among others, proposed concealed performance for every technology in the house. The interior palette was based on a utilitarian approach to materials, in contrast to the overall ambient approach of the design where space overcame necessity. This balance of power proceeded in the backdrop of environmental sensitivity and clinical dearth.

A courtyard, created by daylighting the lower bedrooms from the buried podium, also acts as the rainwater runoff filtration system for the entire site. The project meets or exceeds stringent California green building and energy conservation standards such as low-flow plumbing systems, drought tolerant planting, rainwater filtration, photovoltaic integration, high efficiency building envelope and glazing, HERS rating of the mechanical system, and more.

Living Room ©Paul Vu

Indoor materials specified were sourced naturally and are compliant with Low VOC standards. The design palette was kept minimal to an all natural selection including mica plaster, hardwood flooring, and natural stone. The project sought out minimal, low-impact, and proven materials, achieving a balance between durability, ease of maintenance, and responsible design.
Thus far, the project has won 18 international design awards including: A Design Award 2023, Architect of the Year Awards-2022, Global Future Design Awards-2022.

Kitchen & Staircase ©Paul Vu

Other images can be seen in the gallery down below


Project Address: Bel Air, California, USA
Floor Area: 6,774
Site Area: 10,314.8 sf
Site Dimensions :120’x85’
Building Dimensions: 65’x49’
Landscape Area: 6,438.34 sf
Zoning: Residential Estate (RE15-1-H-HCR)
Height: 26ft (max)
Program: New Single-Family Residence.
Substructure: Exposed structural concrete retaining walls with integral pigment (graphite iron oxide)
Superstructure: Structural steel with light gauge steel framing infill and wood joist framing.
Exterior Shell: CNC milled High-Density Urethane (HDU) boards coated with mineral plaster
Interior Wall Surfaces: Painted drywall, walnut wood veneer, exposed pigmented concrete, marble slabs
Floor Material: Plaster, Engineered walnut wood flooring
Lighting: Diffused LED lightfield, linear LED lights, pin-hole LED lights
Air Conditioning: High Efficiency Zoned Variable Air Handler units with roof-integrated condenser compartment and custom manufactured micro-slot diffusers.
Plumbing: Water efficient fixtures with european durability
Equipment: Design and durability conscious appliances
Automation: Lutron Homeworks mainframe with Palladium interfaces and shading devices
Hardscaping: Cumaru wood decking, Silver Decomposed Granite, Aggregate finish concrete, Arizona Flagstone boulders.
Waterproofing: Encapsulated foundation membrane, polymesh applied surface waterproofing over whole house adhered membrane.
Landscaping: Native, drought tolerant planting.

• Project Developer: Mike Parsee
• Architect: Arshia Architects
Architect Team:
Arshia Mahmoodi (Design Principal)
Xinlei Li (Project Manager, Project Designer)
Yuheng Huang (Project Designer)
Fang Cui (Project Designer)
Ruby Wu (Project Designer)
Zhishan Liu (Project Designer)
• General Contractor: Domaen Build Inc
• Structural Engineer: BOLD Engineer & Associates Inc.
• MEP Engineer: GMEP Engineers
Civil Engineer: GreyStone Engineering Group Inc.
• Soils Engineer: Hillside Inspections, Inc
• Photographers: Paul Vu / Renee Parkhurst / Yuheng Huan
• Interior Architect / Designer: Arshia Architects
• Landscape Architect: Arshia Architects
• Lighting Designer: Arshia Architects

About Arshia Architects
Founded in 2006, Arshia Architects is a Los Angeles-based architecture and design practice that emerged from the tectonic breach of the aesthetic experience and the act of building - purposely fusing this gap with novel substance.

Arshia Architects' studio is dedicated to the exploration of space and the built environment. They are committed to new ways of thinking in space that provide unique solutions to the complex challenges and parameters that affect architecture. They aim to collaborate with disparate disciplines, entering a dialogue with the environment, believing that such partnerships create emergent qualities in architecture.

The practice has been recognized with citations and awards from the American Institute of Architects, the Los Angeles Architecture Award, the International Interior Design Association, and numerous other national and international organizations. Their body of work has been published internationally, and the studio was selected by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) as one of the participants in the first retrospective exhibition on Contemporary Architecture in Southern California – focused on the top 35 radical practices to emerge within the past twenty-five years.