Improvisations on the Land: Houses of Fernau + HartmanRichard Fernau; Foreword by Beth Dunlop; Essays by Laura Hartman, Thomas Fisher, and Daniel Gregory

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The first monograph of the California firm whose regional sensibility and early attention to sustainable design anticipated the prevalent trends in residential architecture today.

A generous look at the San Francisco Bay Area architects’ pioneering approach to sustainable houses, ranging from the vineyard regions of California to Telluride, Colorado; the rugged ranch lands of Montana and the picturesque hamlets of the Hudson Valley and Martha’s Vineyard.

Since its formation in 1981, Fernau + Hartman has become renowned for its imaginative expansion of the possibilities of site- and region-specific architecture. Leaders in these concepts, as well as in sustainable design long before its currency today, Fernau + Hartman’s houses maximize the connection between the natural and built environments, intensify the experience of place, and invite an open, playful, and inventive approach to life. A Newport Beach weekend house has flexible sleeping quarters and almost everything else (spaces for cooking, eating, showering, and bathing) is outdoors; a house made of alternating indoor and outdoor rooms climbs up a Sonoma County hillside; and an island house inspired by the fishing village of Menemsha is composed as three independent gabled “sheds” docked at a central screened porch featuring a fireplace and dining table.

With essays by Beth Dunlop, Laura Hartman, Thomas Fisher, and Daniel P. Gregory, Improvisations on the Land creates a multifaceted portrait of the firm’s history, philosophy, and practice - revealing as much about their process as the finished houses themselves. Models, axonometric drawings, floor and site plans, elevations, and photographs of vernacular structures - from a collapsed barn in Montana, to Colorado mining compounds and a louvered colonnade in the Sacramento River Delta - contribute to a full appreciation of Fernau + Hartman’s work, how its sense of spontaneity and joy provides the antidote to so much of the self-conscious architecture that surrounds us, and results in houses that push the possibilities of residential design today.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Size: 286 × 231 mm (1117/64 × 93/32 in)
  • Pages: 192 pp
  • Illustrations: 175 illustrations
  • ISBN: 9781580934305

Richard Fernau is principal of Fernau + Hartman Architects in Berkeley, California with partner Laura Hartman. A professor emeritus in the architecture department at the University of California, Berkeley, he divides his time between the Fernau + Hartman office in California and a storefront studio in rural Montana where he pursues special projects, spends time with his wife and two sons, and fly fishes.