Lichen House by Schwartz and Architecture

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Location: Glen Ellen, California, USA

Year: 2016

Architects: Schwartz and Architecture

SaA Project Team: Wyatt Arnold, Christopher Baile, Erik Bloom, Laura Huylebroek

Contractor: Eames Construction

Landscape Design: Surface Design

Lighting Design: PritchardPeck Lighting

Energy Consultant: Loisos + Ubbelohde

Interiors Consultant: Standard Studio, LLC

Structural Engineer: iAssociate

Photography: © Richard Barnes Photography

Images: SaA

The Lichen House nestles within the fog and oaks in the hills above California’s Sonoma Valley. The free-ranging branches of the site’s mature live and coastal oak trees support veils of draping Ramalina Lichen that filter sunlight, capture moisture and nutrients for their hosts, and remove pollutants from the air through photosynthesis. A hypersensitive organism, lichen retreats or dies in adverse or contaminated environments but quickly expands its net with conditions advantageous for growth. It is a bellwether for the environmental health of this unique microclimate.

This precise relationship between lichen and host provides inspiration for an architecture specifically tailored to its site – both as a response to it and as an augmentation of its best attributes. The Lichen House works in concert with nature’s mechanisms, not to mimic them blindly, but to expand our understanding and experience of them through architecture.

Lichens grow and spread to produce their own food using sunlight – they do not feed on or harm the trees they inhabit. They establish an ethos for design inspiring symbiotic, rather than dominant, relationships between built and unbuilt worlds – one that mirrors the gesture and fluidity of movement in the architecture.

Schwartz and Architecture

© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography
© Richard Barnes Photography

All images courtesy of Schwartz and Architecture


Schwartz and Architecture (SaA)

Neal J.Z. Schwartz.jpg
Neal J.Z. Schwartz
Founding Principal

Neal established the collaborative design studio, Schwartz and Architecture (SaA) in 1997 after several years working on large-scale international projects with other firms. In 1992, he completed dual Master’s degrees in Architecture and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and the Kennedy School of Government respectively.

This unique combination of design and policy has become the foundation of his practice; a commitment to design creativity as a tool to surpass clients’ expectations, combined with a devotion to rigorous management of the exigencies of complex design, permitting, and construction processes. From the beginning, Neal has also committed the firm to significant pro-bono work with non-profits, including the Children’s Creativity Museum, Larkin Street Youth Services, La Cocina, Public Architecture, and the Abayudaya Stern Synagogue in Eastern Uganda.

In 2016, Neal became the Chair of the newly revived AIASF Public Policy & Advocacy Committee (PPAC) and in 2015, he independently established a joint working group between AIASF and SF Planning advocating for improvements to residential design procedures, which continues to result in much-needed change. From 2006 – 2009, Neal was on the Board of Directors for the National AIDS Memorial Grove, chairing the Memorial Design Committee working towards the capital campaign and design development of this national memorial. Neal has been actively involved in teaching since 1988, most recently as an associate professor in architecture at the California College of the Arts (CCA), where he currently coordinates the Master’s degree housing studios.

At Harvard, Neal graduated with Distinction in Architecture, received the Thayer Award for Meritorious Scholarship, the Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, as well as national awards from the Urban Land Institute and American Planning Association. He graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University receiving a Bachelor of Arts in European history and has studied and researched abroad in Vienna, Munich, and Berlin.



Schwartz and Architecture
860 Rhode Island St
San Francisco, CA 94107

tel. 415 550.0430

fax 415 550.0431


Schwartz and Architecture



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