“The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” is one of the most recognizable works of Japanese art in the world. Created between 1829 and 1833 by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, the woodblock print has since been placed on everything from coffee mugs and tote bags to murals and large-scale gallery prints. But have you ever seen a piece of architecture that takes direct inspiration from such a world-renowned work of art?
California-based architect Mario Romano takes an abstracted approach to “The Great Wave” in his “Preston House” design, but the inspiration is undeniable—especially when viewing the home from a diagonal angle and taking in the way the roof seems to “crash” over the architectural volumes below. Romano’s working motto is “live in art,” and he certainly lives up to it with this 5,700-square-foot home, clad in layers of brushed aluminum.
The rippling, metallic roof reflects the sky, and in the light seems to roll like an actual wave. This facade sits one inch above the home’s waterproof skin, allowing it to breathe while protecting it from rain. Simultaneously, hot air is pushed up and out of the home instead of staying trapped beneath the roof, effectively regulating the temperature of the interiors and reducing the need for air conditioning. Even without these practical amenities, the sheer aesthetics of the house make it an instant classic. Stare at it long enough, and you’ll start to believe it has come to life.
“The architectural language of Preston resembles the movement of calligraphy or a building of brush strokes,” says Romano. “Envisioning Hokusai’s ‘The Wave,’ the initial sketches were shaped like auburn ships. A wind blowing. A sea rising. Roof eaves spiraling back into themselves. A great wave crashing, only one of Hokusai’s blues and white-silvers. The roof returns over our head like a solitude of barreled water.”
Romano considers himself an artist first and foremost. He uses digital fabrication to manifest complex geometries in the physical world. “That’s architecture,” he says, “from poetry to reality… there is something authoritarian about a box-like structure. I’m driven to create a structure that is sensitive to the neighborhood, as if it were a form you could discover in nature.”
The slatted wood cladding along the outer walls adds an extra level of depth to an already-kinetic design. Such an organic approach is especially fitting in coastal California. The only potential improvement that could be made to the home would be the carrying of its aesthetic considerations into the interiors: taking cues from the arching and flowing forms outside to engage its inhabitants in their daily lives.
It’s certainly a remarkable home. It’s always cool to see crossovers between art and architecture, which don’t happen nearly often enough. In this case, the reference is abstract enough to avoid being overly cheesy. You might not guess, by looking at it, that it’s inspired by a famous painting, but the subtle nod adds layers of meaning, and the architect’s interpretation has created a truly unique work of residential architecture. Would you live in a house like this?