This Multicultural Approach to California Modernism Reinforces the Important Relationship Between Architecture and Environment

A pair of local architects merges African and Asian philosophies into an original design vision.

Steven Ehrlich and Takashi Yanai of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects are renowned for houses that extend the character of California modernism, focusing on transparency, dissolving the boundaries between inside and out and interpreting North African and Japanese architectural traditions.

Fifteen recent designs are showcased in Ehrlich Yanai: Outside-In (The Monacelli Press). The principal force behind the design is the site, whether a rugged hillside in the desert of Palm Springs, a lush landscape in the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais, or a constricted lot in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, or Venice Beach.

“Blurring the boundaries between the built and natural environment, our designs merge California modernism with vernacular design elements,” Ehrlich says, “Through details and materials, we maximize the home owner’s connection with the site and natural surroundings.”

Central to the architects’ design approach is what Ehrlich describes as “multicultural modernism,” a concept that has emerged from his own immersion in the vernacular buildings of North Africa and Yanai’s embrace of Japanese design principles. Those influences can be seen both in formal elements—courtyards, sculptural staircases, and expansive openings that encourage a seamless transition between inside and out—and in a limited palette of building materials that focuses on stone, wood, and glass.

This architecture of place, which livens and is livened by its surroundings, is evident throughout the work of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, recipient of the 2015 Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects. The practice now encompasses large-scale institutional and commercial projects, but each reflects the principles of the residential designs, which now span more than forty years.

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