Highlighting Modern Architecture & Design

I/O House | Q&A w/ Leonard Ng, LNAI Architecture

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Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

Last weekend’s Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour charted a course through a region rich in modernist history. It led tour-goers to Palo Alto – an epicenter of Silicon Valley – where, amid a backdrop of soaring redwoods, they discovered the newly constructed I/O House.

Designed by Leonard Ng of LNAI Architecture – a firm keen on exploring the subtle and unexpected relationships among space, light, material, and form – I/O House is aptly named to highlight the indoor-outdoor binary that the home seeks to explore and ultimately break down. At the same time, it nods to the input-output systems of computer design, a neat homage to its Silicon Valley location.

Completed in 2016, the home – which clocks in at 3,400 sq. ft. – is a Build-It-Green Greenpoint Rated Home featuring a high-albedo roof, water-efficient plumbing fixtures and landscaping, and large-format windows and doors for plenty of natural daylighting and passive ventilation. 

We sat down with Leonard Ng to chat about I/O House, designing on spec, and the culture of modern design in Palo Alto.

Q&A w/ Leonard Ng | LNAI Architecture

This home is called I/O House. Can you explain the significance of the name?

It originally started as a loose and informal reference to indoor-outdoor or inside-outside. At the same time, it also hints at binary and input/output systems in computer science given its location in Silicon Valley. Bringing the exterior gardens and views deep into the interiors was one of the guiding beacons for us in the design process. At the outset, we tried to ask: how can we take these often binary parts—architecture and landscape, interior and exterior—and have them merge and inform each other?

Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

You built this house on spec, which I’d imagine is a cool opportunity for any architect to set his own design imperatives. What’s your vision of modern that you were looking to achieve with this home?

It’s actually the opposite—trying to create an attentive and bespoke design without a specific client is even more challenging! Rather than designing a generic home, we tried to approach the project as designing a custom home that is warm, modern and inviting for a specific client—just one that hasn’t revealed themselves fully yet. In that regard, our vision of modern tried to revolve around the more experiential qualities of the spaces, which we tried to shape through authentic materials, natural daylighting, and framing both new and existing greenery and landscapes.

Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

You’ve said that the home is meant to be experienced both at once and episodically. Can you elaborate upon this?

The inhabitant and their movement through space and time play a large role in how architecture is experienced. In the case of I/O house, we’ve tried to design a home less like an object or a set of discrete rooms, but more as a continuous experience that unfolds as one moves through the various spaces. Forming subtle relationships and having continuity between seemingly unconnected spaces play a great part in this. For example, a plane of cedar might greet you, but it may also encourage you to follow it a little longer to reveal a hidden garden. And sunlight coming in through a portal at the side of the garden might beckon you to turn another corner to discover what’s on the other side.

Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

Your firm, lnAI Architecture, focuses on space, light, material, and form. How do those four elements play out in this home?

The subtle and unexpected relationships among these elements, and how a person might engage them, is an area of great interest for our office. For example, in the I/O house, there is a recessed portal in the kitchen that opens onto a stair landing which then opens onto a full-height window looking out to the trees and landscape beyond. The overlapping space between the kitchen and stair becomes part of the subconscious experience when one opens the refrigerator door to grab a cold drink. In this moment, the borrowed light and space from the stair, the greenery of the outside landscape, the oak grain of the refrigerator door and the coolness of the cylindrical stainless steel pull in hand all come together in a very exciting and unexpected way.

Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

Palo Alto has a rich history of modern design and living. How do you see the culture of modern design evolving in the area?

Palo Alto is one of the epicenters of Silicon Valley and is well known for having a progressive relationship with technology and the modern era. The City of Palo Alto is a leader in adopting and promoting green building measures and the planning department is open and receptive to architectural innovation. With a lot of younger families here in the tech industry, the ever-growing interest and appreciation for modern design—from products to cars to buildings—has become quite tangible. Stanford University seems to be working to introduce a new graduate level program in architectural design, and special events like the Modern Home Tours are instrumental in spreading the culture further and expanding the community’s outlook on what modern design can be, how it is evolving, and what it might have to offer.

Photo: Veronica Weber

Photo: Veronica Weber

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