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Menlo Park dwelling designed with 14-foot sound wall to dam undesirable noise is amongst ‘fashionable marvels’ open to the general public on Saturday

A 14-foot-tall concrete wall wraps around the exterior side of the home facing the street. Photo by Bruce Damonte, courtesy Silicon Valley Home Tour.

Sharp angles, clean lines, neutral colors, open floor plans – these are the design elements one can expect to find in the seven houses that will be open to the public during the 2024 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour on Saturday, May 18.

One of the homes on the tour, however, boasts an unusual design created to tackle a not-so-uncommon challenge: noise.

Located on a 3/4-acre corner lot on a busy Menlo Park street across from a school, the home incorporates a sound wall into its design to block unwanted noise. 

The homeowners, who replaced the original two-story home on the site with a new modern one, said the most disturbing noise seemed to come from the afternoon coaches’ whistles piercing the airwaves from the school’s sport fields. 

“Our initial design was more toward the back of the lot,” said Neal Schwartz, founder and principal of S^A / Schwartz and Architecture, San Francisco, who was part of the team that designed the new home.

When they realized how disruptive the noise would be, they called in an acoustic engineer, who took decibel readings from all over the site. The homeowner walked around too, noting that it was quieter behind the existing house, Schwartz said.

The engineer recommended building a 14-foot-tall solid wall along the busy street and extending it around the corner. The planning department wouldn’t approve the wall, unless it was part of the exterior of the house.

Schwartz and his colleague Christopher Baile, also a principal at the firm, decided to make the wall part of the new home. They positioned the new, one-story home close to the corner, and faced it toward the large backyard with a pool.

The 4,500-square-foot home features a large acoustic wall on the street side of the property with interior rooms, which open into a series of landscaped courtyards that are buffered from the surrounding noise. 

“We designed the wall as an exterior wall of the house, then pulled house functions away from the house to create courtyards,” Schwartz said, noting that this let light in, but still blocked the noise.

2024 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour

What: Self-guided tour of seven houses in Belmont, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Los Altos Hills, San Jose

When: 10 a.m.-4p.m., Saturday, May 18

Cost: $50 (plus $5.20 fee); 2 tickets for $90 (plus $7.88 fee); kids (age 10+) $20 (plus $3.18 fee)

Sponsor: Modern Architecture + Design Society

Tickets and home details: More information here

The public can have a firsthand look at the final results during the annual Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour. 

Sponsored by the Modern Architecture + Design Society, the self-guided tour gives the public an opportunity to visit and explore some of the best examples of modern architecture in the area, as well as to talk with the architects, designers and builders who had a part in creating the homes. 

A ‘sound’ idea
The home is divided into three discrete sections, all under the roof: The public spaces (living room/kitchen, dining room, family room) all open to the outside, with views of large oaks, as well as an outdoor eating area. A ramped bridge connects the public and private spaces (two bedrooms for the kids, a bathroom, laundry room, and primary bedroom and bathroom suite). Another walkway leads to a guest room/bathroom/office – or a poolside cabana – with easy access to the pool.

On the tour, visitors will quickly see how the textured concrete wall is a backdrop for a series of courtyards that give an easy, indoor-outdoor feel to most rooms of the house. 

They will notice that the wall functions as much more than a sound barrier.

“We wanted to amplify the texture to enhance, capture the light. We were looking for more extreme shadow play to animate the space, give it life with natural light,” said Baile, who placed every board in the concrete form to make the wall.

At first, neighbors were skeptical of that 14-foot-wall, but once the house was completed, the chatter died down. And some may have noticed that their homes are quieter, too, Schwartz said. 

“The house is a really good neighbor and a contribution to the neighborhood,” he added.

Homes on the 2024 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ages 10 and over are invited to attend. Find more details about homes and tickets

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