This is the time of year, before the pollen, heat and humidity are upon us, when we pull up the blinds and throw open the windows, trying to capture the fresh, spring air and welcoming sunshine. We gather armfuls of daffodils, tulips and whatever else might be in bloom and grace our tables and mantles with their cheery faces and subtle aromas. We invite in, with the slightest breeze, the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. After the long winter, we desire to connect with the earth and feel compelled to bring the outdoors inside.
For most of us, our home is pretty conventional when it comes to its relationship with the natural world. On the most fundamental level, our homes serve to protect us from the elements. Introduce electricity, heat, and air conditioning into the mix and we are all but shielded from the outdoors. Sure, we have bay windows and sliding glass doors, but for the most part there is not a symbiotic dialogue with the outside world.
I don’t think we even realize how cut off from the landscape and fresh air and the call of birds and chirps of frogs we are until we find ourselves in a setting that purposefully connects us to the outdoors. Last week, I, along with some of my colleagues, had the good fortune to be in one of these places.
Our Friday afternoon fieldtrip commenced as we crossed a small, narrow bridge onto the private island that is the setting for the historic Rice House in Richmond, VA. Designed and built between 1962 and 1965 by Richard Neutra, this International Style home is situated on an unrivaled hilltop site that overlooks the Williams Dam on the James River. The organic forms and shapes of the natural environment were clearly considered in Neutra’s palette.
The 6000 square foot personal residence is constructed of white Georgia marble and perches along a granite ridge running parallel to the river, as a natural extension of the edge. The horizontal roof, floor planes, and wide panels of sliding glass offer expansive views of the river. Boulders protrude from the foot of the house, and shape the pool that seems to float over the river. Roofs and terraces are cantilevered over the glass walls, creating the illusion of weightlessness. The vast amount of glass and the close proximity of the building to the landscape create an intimacy with the terrain, evoking the feeling that the flora and fauna that surrounds the property is an actual part of the interior decor. There is an ambiguity of interior and exterior spaces, reconnecting the inhabitants to the earth.
When in the Rice House, it’s almost as though the walls and floors disappear into the background. While there are some pretty cool treatments in the interior space (you’ll have to check out future blogs for a recap of these!) what is most inspiring to me, at least, is the intense immersion into the landscape. From every window there is a breathtaking view. There is no feeling of claustrophobia; just a strong desire to take a deep breath, exhale, and relax. You are immediately transported into a space that is humble, peaceful, and respectful of the land.
To ensure the preservation of the house and its natural setting, Ambassador Rice and his wife Inger donated the home and property to the Science Museum of Virginia, which is currently examining how best to restore and care for the home.