Margaret Esherick Addition

Over the last semester I’ve analyzed the Margaret Esherick house, built by legendary architect Louis Kahn. The house is located in Philadelphia, in a lavish neighborhood abutting the mysterious Pastorius park.


Margaret Esherick House – Drawing

Through my analysis of Kahn’s work, I noticed his constant attempts to handle solar lighting in a way that manipulates space theatrically and embeds symbols within the structure. I decided to play within these rules, but focus primarily on indirect solar lighting, to generate fine photonic mist.

Esherick Panel1

Margaret Esherick House

Lighting Conceptual Exploration

Lighting Conceptual Exploration

Margaret Esherick house’s solar patterns shows  the result of sun penetration throughout the day. Playing with the dematerialization of light yielded interesting results, it gave me spacial tools to reuse at a later date:


Pixelization Screen


Circular reflecting diffuser

My next exploration was the creation of a building: a displaced column allowing indirect lighting through the building’s structure. The circular reflecting diffuser also evolved into a fabric fit-joined detail.

Axo Corner2

Displaced column

Atmospheric Circle

Fabric Solar Filter

After completing our explorations, we were tasked with the creation of an architectural program for an addition to the existing house. I found that the Esherick house is too tailored for a powerful single woman. The client, Margaret Esherick was a successful book dealer, but I do not feel that the house has any space for the presence of a male partner (nor children), it is meant for solitary existence. The house is on the market and has recently dramatically dropped in price from 3 million to 1 million dollars, it is not meeting the expectation of buyers despite its paramount architectural importance. I asked myself, hypothetically, what it would take to make me move in there with my significant other? I assumed the role of the client and creator as an architect or consultant designer working at home with up to three employees and designed myself a home office extension which contains:

  • Workshop with 4’x4′ CNC machine & Storage room
  • Computer lab / Design studio
  • Kitchen & Client meeting room
  • Water closet

After going through some form iterations (1 & 2, 3 & 4), we were given two weeks to design and document a final solution.


Margaret Esherick House – Addition Drawings

The studio is placed on the outskirts of the house, in the forested and expansive backyard. Two entrances are provided, the one connecting the garage area to the workshop and the other linking the house terrace to the office kitchen. Both entrances are characterized by a stairway sinking into the ground into the half earth-encased building. The outer skin is of green corroded copper strips, allowing the buried building to fade into the forested background.



The studio shelter is built on a arched columnar system positioned above a continuous slit in the roofing skin. This juxtaposition of void and obstruction blocks most of the direct light, but allows reflected indirect lighting to seep into the building. The light slits provide continuous wall-wash lighting atop adjacent walls and provide an subconscious cue to the overlying structure.


Lit Ceiling Plan showing light penetration through structure and covered skylights


Lit Ceiling perspective showing light penetration through structure and Northern openings

The journey through the dwelling starts with the workshop, a large space for woodworking and CNC production. From the outside, a large staircase descends to a double door, revealing the shop. The space is large, it provides shelving, a generous workbench, a 4’x4′ CNC machine and a small storage room. The south walls are covered with square solar sconces, behind each fixture is a fin reaching inside the window enclosure to scoop light inward. The effect is a glowing dark square reminiscent of Kazimir Malevich’s black square on white frame. Quite evidently, the soft lighting provided by the indirect light is not enough for proper workshop activities and artificial light (under-cabinet linear LED task lighting, etc) needs to be utilized during regular production time. It should be enough, however, to provide appropriate circulation lighting and create a surreal atmosphere within the space.



Black Square

Kazimir Malevich – Black square on white frame


Square solar sconce

Fin Design

Back Fin Design

As with the rest of the structure, the roof if arched. It smoothly faces the South and abruptly falls to the earth on the North. The center of the room is pieced by a skylight and covered by a curved hanging plank, once again providing indirect solar lighting and scooping inside the window to catch stray photons.

Workshop ceiling

Workshop Ceiling


Workshop Skylight


Workshop leading into Office

The workshop is separated from the office by a thick 10″ wall equipped with double sliding door for sound isolation. The central circulation corridor separates the room in two main areas, on the North is the computer desk with bookshelves at both ends. The long desk and the shelving above is meant to provide space for a printer, 3d printer, 3d scanner, cameras, sensors, drones, camera equipment and human-computer interaction devices.

Studio Lab

Studio Lab


Computer Bay

The north wall is pierced by fabric covered pyramidal tetrahedron windows, similar to my previously constructed fabric lamp. The fabric scatters the photons across the room and provides a structured focal glows.

The skylight is covered with a board to dissect direct solar lighting and house the track lighting above. The curved board does not contain a fin such as the one in the workshop, which allows additional indirect light to reach the drawing table through the curved ceiling.

Dawing table

Drawing table illuminated by indirect solar lighting


Space lit solely by solar light, showing structure projected onto wall

A small washroom is situated between the studio and the kitchen. It is surrounded by two arched slits, providing soft grazing lighting on the ceiling and walls above.

Wall washing effect in washroom ceiling

Wall washing effect in washroom ceiling

The final room is the kitchen and client presentation room. A fashionable couch and modern chairs provide seating around a wall hung table. A round hung lamp denotes the meeting/eating area.

Eating/Meeting table

Eating/Meeting table

The office kitchen contains a fridge, sink and a compact two element induction stove.

Kitchen view from couch

Kitchen view from couch

The ceiling is devoid of skylight to provide a more controlled and relaxing atmosphere. The Northern wall is punctured by spherical holes filled with smaller spherical reflectors. These eyelets are animated by the sun through the day and provide a subtle diffuse light to the room.

Circular slots

Circular slot reflectors

The Eastern windows is filtered by two adjacent layers of punctured fabric. The combination of fabric creates a moiré pattern that glows and shifts throughout the day.


Moiré pattern resulting from superposition of two punctured pieces of fabric over window

As a whole, the structure provides a microcosm separated from the outside world. The space is meant to increase sensitivity to indirect solar lighting and provide a shifting low level lighting usually eliminated by static artificial lighting. The theatrical effect of solar lighting can creates an interested backdrop easily complimented by artificial lighting.

Reflections on the work

My work this semester was quite enjoyable and allowed me to play with solar lighting, an area I’d never directly manipulated before. The teaching curriculum was loose enough, yet still organized, which was a balanced way to organize my creative activity within a useful framework. I’ve learned to be clear regarding my concepts and objectives from the beginning (creating a building with solar indirect light > photonic mist), which really helped going forward with the project and the explorations.

As mentioned previously, the semester was 80% analysis and conceptual exploration with a very rushed design period at the end. I wish I’d have more time to tweak the house and find better ways to let more light inside, to really massage the design, perhaps even a whole other semester. I recognize that some rooms are quite dark and that more penetrations need to be made to obtain the final effect I’m after.  Either way, I’ve learned some useful strategies that can be reused in the future.

I would like to get more comfortable with materials and environments (trees, etc) in 3d modelling. The lack of material was great for a preliminary analysis, but unacceptable for a truly realistic simulation.

I am looking forward to next semester, to find out where our studio teacher will take us next.