Year: 2023

Menlo Park, CA

S^A | Schwartz and Architecture

860 Rhode Island Street

Modal Home


Bruce Damonte

To quiet a noisy road, this new home turns inward to create an urban cloister buffered from the surrounding city. Although closed off from the busy intersection –and the seemingly incessant whistle of the soccer coach across the road– the interior life of this courtyard home remains open and expansive.

The siting of the home at the front edge of the corner lot is somewhat counter-intuitive.  Instead of shirking from the noise to the farther reaches of the site –de-facto creating a large front yard of limited value, the architects sidle the structure up to the street and turn its back to it.  They carefully measured the decibel levels across the site to identify an acceptable noise level for the family of four.  The designers then reverse engineered the design challenge by first asking what length, height and material for an acoustic wall would achieve the desired sound levels behind the barrier.  The answer became the 14-foot-tall board formed concrete wall that both anchors the home on the site and is ever-present on the interior.

The positioning of the project’s orientation and openings of the house were carefully located through analysis of the site’s natural conditions, to achieve maximum passive cooling through the hottest months of the year. Utilizing the courtyard typology, every space of the house is connected with the outdoors, taking full advantage of natural daylight, and direct visual/physical connection with surrounding nature.

On a more conceptual level, to compensate for the loss of sound and view inherent in the architect’s strategy, they focused every element of the design to intensify the ephemeral nuances of natural light over the course of the day. To capture this, each space looks through a series of layered indoor and outdoor adjacent spaces, each with its own quality of light –thus dramatically increasing the sense of depth and scale in the relatively small site. For the architects, the leitmotif of the project was the commitment that the loss of one sense should always be balanced out with heightening the perceptions of another. The Modal Home was borne out of embracing a site’s perceived deficits as the inspiration for rising above them.


Neal Schwartz, FAIA
Wyatt Arnold, Architect
Christopher Baile, Architect
Ania Burlinska, Associate


Contractor - Webb Builders, Inc. Email: [email protected] Phone: (650) 367-9930
Structural Engineer - iAssociates Email: [email protected] Phone: (415) 517-6255
Lighting Design - PritchardPeck Lighting Email: [email protected] Phone: (415) 323-5540
Energy Consultant - Loisos+Ubbelohde Email: [email protected] Phone: (510) 521-3800
Landscape Design - Studio Green Email: [email protected] Phone: (415) 721-0910
Photography - Bruce Damonte Email: [email protected] Phone: (415) 845-6919

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