This residence was built for William Slayton, a housing and redevelopment official, who worked with Zeckendorf and Pei on the Southwest Washington Urban Renewal project. Designed to accommodate Slayton, his wife, and two young daughters, the house was built on a sloped site that Pei helped to select in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC during his frequent trips to the capital. The house stands apart from its neo-colonial neighbors, set back from the property line behind a brick privacy wall, echoing solutions in China where inward-focused residences are walled off from the street. Peeking above that wall are three architectural concrete barrel vaults that hark back to the vaulted pavilion at Mile High in Denver. With the creative license inherent in designing a house for a friend, Pei could indulge in more sculptural play than permitted by the rigorous cost-driven requirements of his other concrete buildings.
The broadly glazed front of the house opens to a large living area conceived for Slayton’s frequent entertaining of colleagues and government associates. Deeper inside, the main floor steps up a half-level to three bedrooms, each covered by one of the 10-feet-wide vaults, or alternately steps down a half-level to the kitchen and dining room and opens, through the glass rear facade, to an outdoor patio and garden.
The residence is one of only three built by Pei (together with the Tandy House and Pei’s own home in Katonah). He preferred to design more monumental civic and institutional architecture that could be experienced by the public-at-large. Pei reportedly sketched the basic concept for the Slayton House on the back of a menu and then turned over development to his colleague Kellogg Wong, to whom Pei attributes the design. Wong still has a collection of Pei’s seminal sketches documenting its evolution from a 5-vaulted scheme to the final 3-vault solution.
In 1964, the Slayton House was chosen by Architectural Record magazine as one of only 20 houses nationwide notable for “trendsetting features and architectural creativity.” It was renovated by the renowned architect, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, in 2002 and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Kellogg Wong, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Partners