Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Travel Log : Sonoma County, California

In the last few weeks I traversed the diversities of the city of San Francisco, California and continued up into the amazing Sonoma and Napa counties as well. I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of modern infill housing in the city proper. My camera was fired up at almost every corner and hilltop (of which there are many!). My most exciting discovery though was in the Russian River Valley region of Sonoma County, home to vast vineyards, towering redwood forests, rocky coastlines on the Pacific, and idyllic small towns built around the quintessential American central square park. Driving the rental car, no not a your typical Sebring convertible but a pale green Prius, I made a quick turnaround on a windy country road upon discovering what looked to be a very modern looking winery. In this region, most wineries are built to replicate historic Italian, French, or old farm like estates. While meticulously detailed, none are authentic and can read as very touristy. With 500-700 wineries in this region, it is impossible to see what they all entail. Twomey winery happened to be one not to miss regarding it's innovation with involving ergonomic and site specific design to the winery typology. The compound consisted of three separate structures. The primary one being the tasting room and lounging facilities. The other two housing the more industrial and agricultural aspects of wine production and cultivation. Upon approaching the winery, low slung curving roofs with large overhangs hug close to the landscape, gradually inviting you in to the entry which welcomes you with a soft waterfall on a curved concrete retaining wall. The simplicity of the cast concrete, glass and steel openings, and warm wood cladding allow for the vibrancy of the colors and patterns in the planted landscape compliment each other. Upon entering the private enclosure of the building, immediately your view is directed towards the rear of the glass wall that wraps the entire rear and sides of the space. The view is to the vast vineyards and mountaintops beyond the hillside setting where you are perched. The wine bar is the first area where you taste the fruits of what is in the view beyond. The undulating bar area is echoed in the gentle curves of the wood clad roof which seems to float above the space. Here the architecture becomes the background and the frame for the natural beauty beyond, rather than the showcase itself, as it is in many other faux-stylized wine facilities. Venture beyond the pivoting glass doors which open up the space even more to the landscape, and you can take in the view on a softly curving terrace with a trellis structure above taking its cues from the rolling landscape. Just beyond, the other two more production oriented structures are evidently more functionally designed while still picking up on the same organic elements. The curves become a bit more hard, constructed out of steel and exposed structures. The fenestration becomes smaller while the mechanical elements become the design features. These juxtapositions in spatial functions play off of each other and integrate architecturally together, while still maintaining their functionality. In a landscape that is beyond picturesque, aggressive modern architecture still plays a part. Here the architecture does not become an object in the landscape, it becomes a part of it and celebrates it.

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