Friday 18th March

Steven Holl

Steven Holl – Architect – (No author, 2009)

Steven Holl is an Architect known for his brilliant and beautiful designs. The complexity of the exemplar design, the Stretto House was what first drew me to this architect. It beautifully follows the sound of music, almost like running water down a stream. This post will expore this remarkable Architect, as well as provide information on 3 central ideas. A house an an environmental filter, a container for human activity and a delightful experience.

Steven Holl is one of the most exciting architects in the country. A modernist who founded his New York firm in 1976, he has received international acclaim for his institutional, commercial and museum projects. Dallas is fortunate to have one of Steven Holl’s most important residential projects. It can be found in Preston Hollow on Rockbrook. He named it the Stretto House because he is particularly influenced by Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. (Newby, 2006)

Interior of Stretto House (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


Model of the Stretto House (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


Exterior view of Stretto house. Note the curvature of the roof. (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


A Delightful Experience:

Steven Holl has used his brilliance to engineer this very individual design for a very unique client. This house has such a delightful experience. The exterior alone is fluid in motion, just like a piece of music and very athletically pleasing to the eye.  ‘A house surrounded by green becomes intensely articulate writing. In the style of a musical score, Holl composes a many-voiced dialogue between water and light, spaces and materials, nature and construction. A design but also a manifesto, in which the most abstract thought and professional craftsmanship meet beyond the limits of academy or hollow provocations’. (Author Unknown, 1992) Steven uses delight in this Architectural creation to expire people. Its complexity is breath taking. The interior spaces are defined by the ingenious roof design. The overlapping in the roofing structure allows strips of light to enter the building creating a contrast between light and shade within the house.

Working drawings – (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


Stretto house (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste has a materiality in instrumentation which the architecture approaches in light and space. Formed in four sections, the building consists of two modes: heavy orthogonal masonry and light, curvilinear metal. The main house is aqueous space: floor planes pull one space to the next, roof planes pull space over walls and an arched wall pulls light from a skylight. Materials continue the concept in poured concrete, cast glass in fluid shapes, slumped glass and liquid terrazzo. (Holl, 2010) 


‘Taking off from modernism’s form-follows-function constraints, the architect Steven Holl embraces minimalism that is open to the imagination. Neither historical models nor practical demands triggered the creative impulse behind this 7,000-square-foot Texas house. Instead, Holl’s inspiration was a score by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.” The result is a symphony of interconnected masonry and limestone pavilions whose arched roofs rise like musical crescendos, then dip with the undulating landscape’. (Lovine, 1994)


An Environmental Filter:

Being such an engineering marvel this building is very structural. Most of the time structural houses also tend to use bulky and thick materials such as steel and brick. Steven Holl has managed to steer away from the bulky and heavy look using the fluid movements of the roof as well as the large expanses of glass. Not only does the glass act as an environmental filter and let the light into house, it also acts as an insulator against the winter cold, while still allowing the sun to penetrate the building. Being on such a picturesque block of land, the Stretto House’s glass windows are also shaped in various shapes to create unique pictures of the surroundings.  Sited adjacent to three ponds with existing dams, the house projects the character of the site through a series of concrete “spatial dams” with metal framed “aqueous space” flowing through them. Pouring over the dams, like the overlapping stretto in music, water reflects the landscape outside and the spaces overlapping inside. (Holl, 2010)

Unique window design. (Image taken from Holl, 2010)


Container for Human Activities:

This house was designed for the Clients to house their expansive art collection. They had grown up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house and are very aware of the privilege and exposure of living in a piece of art. This influenced the layout of building as well as the aspects that each room would house. They would need to accommodate housing a piece of Art, as well as a view of the surroundings. This balance would need to be equal in order for the rooms to work. The house itself has been designed in four sections, which are both then divided into two units: the first is rectangular heavy masonry which makes reference to the concrete dams on the site, and the second is of light and curvilinear metal which covers the various rooms – living room, art storage room, office, dining room and breakfast corner. Each of the rectangular masonry contains a service zone for the house – the staircases that lead to a bedroom and a sitting room, bathrooms, library and the kitchen. The last section of the house is a partially covered pond, a flooded room. (Arnardottir n.d.)

Overlapping roofs (Image taken from Holl, 2010)



Arnardottir, H. n.d. The stretto house in Dallas by Steven Holl, (accessed 13th March 2010)

Author Unknown, 2009, Steven Holl – Biography, (accessed 14th March 2010)
Author Unknown, 1992, Steven Holl: Texas Stretto House, Dallas, Domus 744 December Edition, (accessed 15th March 2010) 

Holl, S. 2010, Stretto House, (accessed 11th March 2010)

Lovine, J. 1994, A Clean Sweep, New York Times Magazine, April 10.

Newby, D. 2006, Stretto House, (accessed 11th March 2010)


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