2-4-6-8 House

Surfside 70s

2-4-6-8 House

Los Angeles, California 90095, United States

Created By: Friends Of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles




Original Client:

Joshua Sale and Peggy Curran

Why is it on the Trail?

Morphosis is now a globally-recognized architecture firm, but in the 1970s, founding members Thom Mayne, James Stafford, and Michael Rotondi were just starting out, and most of their commissions were small-scale houses or additions. Mayne and Rotondi both taught at the experimental architecture school SCI-Arc in Santa Monica, founded in 1972, and many of their early projects were located in nearby Venice. At the time, Venice was sleepier than Santa Monica, a haven for bohemians, artists, and health-seekers who embraced the laid-back California lifestyle. Morphosis’ early projects were inspired by the community’s eclectic personality, including their 2-4- 6-8 House, which the firm says, “gave voice to this happenstantial quality, inflected by the serendipity and combustibility of Venice street life.” Located on a narrow alley lined with telephone poles, small bungalows, and carports, the 2-4-6-8 House is playful and ad-hoc (a term frequently used to describe postmodern architecture), just like its surroundings.

2-4-6-8 House is a single volume, conventional wood balloon frame structure placed above a two-car garage. Morphosis approached the design as an expression of the assembly process. They started with an exploded diagram that articulated each building section and form, from the cube- shaped main space to the roof. They then expressed different building elements so the structure reads as a kit-of-parts, manifested most clearly in each of the structure’s four glass-free window frames that appear tacked onto the building exterior. Rendered in bright yellow with blue lintels and red scuppers, the frames speak to their colorful surroundings but also reflect the building as an exercise in assemblage. The house takes its name from these four windows: there is one on each side of the cubic volume measuring 2’x 2’, 4’x 4’, 6’x 6’ and 8’x 8’. Morphosis clad the façade with ordinary asphalt shingles, and concrete block walls, aluminum windows, and a simple white picket fence reflect the firm’s engagement with Venice’s streetscape. The application of everyday materials finds parallels with Frank Gehry’s design for his own house, the first phase of which was completed the same year.

Year Built


Materials Employed

Cement blocks, wood frame covered with asphalt shingles, aluminum windows, and white picket fence.

Architectural Style


Postmodernism emerged as a critique of Modernism that, by the late 60s and early 70s, was no longer regarded as radical and contemporary. Pushing back against its predecessor that condemned the use of symbolism, historical reference, and ornamentation, Postmodern architecture featured bright colors, curved geometries, referential forms, asymmetries, and, often, contradictory elements intended to directly reject Modernism’s projection of architectural purity.

The 2-4-6-8 House also presents characteristics of Deconstructivism, a style that breaks down, distorts and dislocates traditional architectural elements— in this case, windows and their frames and mullions.


The 2-4-6-8 House isn’t actually a house; it’s a 400-square-foot studio, a quirky cubic structure clad in gray asphalt shingles with a pyramidal roof built atop a two-car garage. It was designed as an addition to a 1920s Craftsman bungalow, commenting on the older building by exaggerating and almost parodying its sturdy simplicity.

The structure takes its name from its four incrementally scaled windows (one on each side of the building’s four walls) that measure 2’x2’, 4’x4’, 6’x6’ and 8’x8’. The simple, aluminium windows are adorned with glass-free decorative frames painted in bright yellow with blue lintels and red scuppers, which are tacked onto the building’s exterior,

The geometry and bright colors make it look like a child’s playhouse built with a toy construction kit.

Built by young, then-unknown architects (Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi of Morphosis) for a friend who was still a student at UCLA at the time, the 2-4-6-8 House is now considered historically important because it addressed several architectural issues that were prevalent in the late 1970s, from the use of common, inexpensive building materials (an idea that Frank Gehry was also exploring at his own residence in Santa Monica, built the same year) to construction methods that explicitly showcased the relationships between parts, and the use of solar power (the house has several solar panels on its roof).


Morphosis has written extensively about the ideas and processes that went into the 2-4-6-8 House. On its website, the firm describes the essence of this early project this way: “Tectonics, fragments, aggregates, and a sense of the unfinished percolate into everyday life.”

In a 1989 monograph published by Rizzoli, Morphosis offered a more in- depth explanation of the concepts behind this design:

“Our client desired a room for privacy and meditation which could function for a broad range of activities. This studio was to be added onto a 1920’s beach bungalow.

Because we wished to communicate with the client and were interested in the formal terms of the design of the house, we created a “Revell-like“ kit. This kit documented the project in a familiar format that could be understood by a layperson and could help to alleviate some of the fear and confusion inherent in undertaking such a formidable task. The kit contained two posters which cataloged the building materials and described a basic step-by-step construction assembly. A pocket-sized set of working drawings served as the major means of communication with the client.

The primary design objective was to develop a simple, straightforward building that reflected the client’s values. In order to reinforce the aspect of retreat, the studio was conceived of as a one-volume detached house placed over a two-car garage behind the existing residence. There are modest provisions for kitchen and bath. The house is of conventional wood balloon frame and is covered with asphalt shingles.

The windows were designed to reinforce the centrality of the space, while offering a differentiated perception of the external milieu. The building is neither heated nor cooled mechanically, it depends on the one “conventional“ window for environmental control. The sunlight is controlled through external servo-operated blinds. The space is naturally ventilated by manually operated vents which project as lintels on three sides. Hot water is provided by solar collector panels. All of these parts are expressed as gadgets to be played with.” (Mayne and Plummer, 1989, p.50-57)


In 2004, the bungalow next to which the 2-4-6-8 House had been built as an ancillary building burned down, and architecture firm Johnston Marklee & Associates was hired by the original client, Josh Sale, to design a new main house. Just as the 2-4-6-8 House had been conceived as a commentary on the original bungalow, so the new Sale House was created as a response to the 2-4-6-8 House. Of their design process, Johnston Marklee & Associates wrote: “We used one of Thom Mayne’s drawings for the studio as a guide, and designed the house to react to the geometries, use of color, and dimensions.”

The result was a 1,600-square-foot late modern residence connected to the 2-4-6-8 House via a second-floor deck, and using the older studio’s proportions as the “negative” dimensions of the new house’s outdoor courtyard.


Thom Mayne was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in January 1944. When he was 10 years old, his mother moved the family from Gary, Indiana to Whittier, California, in Los Angeles County. There, Mayne studied architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, later transferring to USC, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

After working as an urban planner and living on a commune, Mayne taught at Cal Poly Pomona for a time. In 1972, he was one of a group of fifty architecture faculty members and students who left the university to establish the experimental New School, which was later renamed the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Located in Santa Monica, the school encouraged invention, exploration, and critical thinking, integrating courses in the social and behavioral aspects of architecture into the design curriculum.

That same year, 1972, Mayne informally founded Morphosis, an interdisciplinary, collective devoted to experimental design and research, along with fellow architects James Stafford, Michael Brickler, and Livio Santini—Michael Rotondi would join the practice four years later. After receiving a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1978, Mayne returned to Los Angeles and began teaching at SCI-Arc.

Morphosis (which now consisted of principals Mayne and Rotondi) also became more active. The firm’s early projects consisted of small houses, creative reuses of existing buildings, and additions, most of them located in Venice, where the two architects lived. At the time, Venice was an inexpensive, ramshackle neighborhood, a home to street gangs and a haven for bohemians. Morphosis’ pivotal early projects were inspired by this diverse community and its vernacular architecture, a mix of 1920s beach bungalows and industrial buildings.

In the fall of 1979, Mayne opened The Architecture Gallery, a pop-up art space in the spare room of his Venice apartment, not far from SCI-Arc’s campus. The gallery considered architecture as an art form, presenting nine weeklong exhibitions, each one focusing on the work of a local up-and-coming architect or collective, and accompanied by a lecture at SCI-Arc from the star of that week’s show. The featured architects included Eric Owen Moss,

Craig Hodgetts and Robert Mangurian (who called their firm Studio Works), Morphosis, and Frank Gehry. The members of this loose collective rejected sleek late modern corporate architecture in favor of free expression, humor, and a social conscience. Each of the Architecture Gallery exhibitions was enthusiastically reviewed by John Dreyfuss, the Los Angeles Times’ design critic, and the attention put the group of young architects on the map. By 1980, Mayne and Rotondi had become leaders of what was known in the media as the “L.A. School.”

Over the course of his career, Mayne has held faculty positions at Cal Poly Pomona, SCI-Arc, and UCLA, and has lectured around the world. He was the recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2005 and the AIA Gold Medal in 2013. He currently lives in a house formerly occupied by the writer Ray Bradbury, which he painstakingly redesigned over the course of several years.


Michael Rotondi was born in 1949 in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. The son of Italian immigrants (his father was a chef, his mother a musician and seamstress) he drew façades and elevations as a child, eventually taking drafting lessons in junior high school, and later attending Los Angeles City College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Cal Poly Pomona. Along with Thom Mayne, Rotondi was one of the founding members of SCI-Arc, from which he graduated in 1973.

Rotondi started his architecture career at DMJM, one of Southern California’s largest full-service design and engineering firms. From 1974 to 1976, he practiced independently and in collaboration with Peter de Bretteville and Craig Hodgetts, before joining Morphosis in 1976. He remained a principal at Morphosis until 1991, when he left to start a new firm, RoTo Architects, with Clark Stevens and Brian Reiff.

In addition to his work as an architect, Rotondi has remained active at SCI-Arc. He established the school’s graduate programs, of which he was director from 1978 to 1987, before succeeding founding director Ray Kappe, becoming Sci-ARC’s director from 1987 to 1997. He still teaches at SCI-Arc as well as at Arizona State University, and has been a guest lecturer at dozens of institutions.

Rotondi has received numerous architecture awards, including the AIA Gold Medal in 2009 and the Richard J. Neutra Medal from Cal Poly Pomona in 2014.


Since its inception, Morphosis has grown to become one of Los Angeles’s most prominent architecture firms, building large-scale projects worldwide, including university campuses, government buildings, and corporate headquarters. The firm has received more than 190 local, national and international awards, including nine for designing the Los Angeles campus of Emerson College and 16 for the Perol Museum of Nature and Science.


The 2-4-6-8 House is a perfect example of Morphosis’s pre-1980 work, a period when the firm’s commissions consisted of small houses, remodeling of existing buildings, and additions, usually designed for friends of the architects who lived in Venice, as Mayne and Rotondi did. These projects were often built with common industrial materials (in this case, wood, cement blocks, asphalt shingles, aluminum windows, and a white picked fence), they looked like they were assembled from a kit of parts, and they had an ad hoc quality that matched the neighborhood’s eclectic vernacular architecture. These structures also appeared modular, with a focus on dimensions and proportions (here, a cubic room with a pyramidal roof featuring a sliding scale of windows of different sizes), and they placed a strong emphasis on a normally inconspicuous building component—in this case, the brightly- colored decorative faux-window frames.


Joshua Sale and Peggy Curran

Josh Sale studied computer science at UCLA, graduating in 1975. A year earlier, he had purchased a 800-square-foot bungalow on Amoroso Place in Venice, which was then a rundown neighborhood filled with warring gangs— Sale’s neighbors were members of a gang called the V13s.

For the next decade, Sale would be a Manager of System Development at Xerox before forming his own consulting firm, Trillium, which he describes as “a results-oriented organization providing consulting in planning, system architecture, and software design.”

Sale’s wife, Peggy Curran, is also a graduate of UCLA, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in urban planning before holding positions in city management in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

From 1994 to 2006, the couple lived in Telluride, Colorado, renting out their Venice home. Curran was town manager of Telluride, overseeing the implementation of several environmental programs, including ones targeting river restoration, open space protection, and infrastructure improvements. Meanwhile, Sale was co-founder and coordinator of the Open Space Commission in San Miguel County. Over the course of his tenure, his efforts helped protect over 25,000 acres of land and generated $4.15 million for open space and recreation funding.

In 2006, Sale and Curran returned to California, where Curran became town manager of Tiburon, located in Marin County. The couple currently lives in Mill Valley, California.


“Thom Mayne and I were friends. And because I needed more space, I asked him and Michael Rotundi to design a garage and studio. I didn’t know anything about architecture, but when I saw that Thom and Michael kept bringing architects around to see the project, I realized my studio was something special.” — Joshua Sale (House Variety)



The 2-4-6-8 House, which consists of a studio built above a two-car garage, is built as an annex to an existing bungalow. This project, along with several other house additions designed by Morphosis in Venice during this period, puts architects Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi on the map as early leaders of the “L.A. School” of postmodern architecture, along with Frank Gehry, Eric Owen Moss, and others.


The original client, Josh Sale, hires the firm of Johnston Marklee and Associates to build a two-story house to replaces his bungalow, which had burned down in a fire. The new house connects to the 2-4-6-8 House via a deck and takes its inspiration from Morphosis’s original design.


The 2-4-6-8 House receives a 25-year award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

This point of interest is part of the tour: Surfside 70s


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