Sherman assumes social responsibility as a fundamental aspect of the design process. sensitive landscaping, which includes incorporating existing mature trees and working with a property’s natural features, is a crucial factor in being respectful to the environment, as well as to one’s neighbors.

Ones to Watch: Joel L. Sherman


Joel L. Sherman of J.L.S. Design views social responsibility as a key tenet of his firm’s design philosophy. Because every built project has an effect that reaches beyond the physical limits of property lines, each of his studio’s projects must take broader communal issues into account. The result is an approach that is truly holistic.

The Tahoe-based architect dwells in a dramatic landscape. He is well attuned to the interplay of structure and topographical features. Sherman’s dramatic “stal tre hus” (steel tree house), a ski home near Donner Pass in the Sierra mountains, already resides in the pantheon of iconic California architecture for appearing to float within its surrounding forest canopy. It is in his “Artist’s Playground” project, a residence designed for a painter on a 21-acre property in the Sierra foothills, however, that one perceives Sherman’s interest in examining the interplay between built form and landscape, while exploring Modernist interpretations.

Sherman’s starting point was his client’s desire — and his own — that the home seem to emerge from, rather than dominate, the hillside’s rust-colored soil and native landscape of manzanita, cedar, pine, madrone and oak. Zinc-tinted arched forms would echo the site’s weathered granite protrusions. The structure, overlooking a valley and flowing creek, would have an organic, flowing plan, achieved through serpentine-like sandblasted walls that occasionally slide through the structure, and a series of courts and plazas that marry indoor and outdoor spaces. The rooms would need to provide varied spaces for display of art, both the owner’s original works and her acquisitions. A shedlike master bedroom and dining room suite finished in Corten steel would speak to the region’s mining history. And, of course, nature and natural light would be ever present, an effect achieved through generous use of clerestories, mitered glass corners and the extension of materials from inside to out.

The result successfully achieves the goals of both owner and architect, goals that might seem to conflict. For instance, there had to be predetermined wall planes for particular works of art, yet also plenty of opportunities for what Sherman refers to as “visual vignettes.” In unifying the art with the home with the surrounding landscape, Joel Sherman’s “Artist’s Playground” marries practicality and livability with whimsicality — an artist’s prerogative, and a testament to the holistic approach of J.L.S. Design.  

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