Year Completed: 2011
COLLABORATOR: W. DAVID WINITZKY, AIA
This California home for a technology executive is defined by a series of human-centered design values: health, ecology, value, and innovation.
Not only is the first and most essential of these values—health—embodied in the sustainable and healthy materials used throughout the building's interior and exterior, but also in the occupant's experience of the home as a tranquil and restorative space.
Gardens along the house's south slope and hidden rooftop terrace provide access to homegrown vegetables and fruit, while the building's thermal mass leverages passive solar heat-gain to ensure the maintenance of comfortable interior temperatures despite daily and seasonal fluctuations in weather.
The home's commitment to health at a human scale extends to health at an ecological scale, as the building was designed to have a minimal disruptive impact on the environment beginning with materials sourcing and construction and continuing throughout its use cycle.
Heavy materials like stone were sourced from within a 250-mile radius of the site to mitigate the glut of energy usually used to import building materials from far-flung places. This principle has the added benefit of enshrining the natural beauty of the home's surroundings within its finishes, as boulders from local farmland have found new life as a countertop for the kitchen's expansive island, and limestone boulders excavated from the site during construction were transformed into garden retaining walls.
The home is designed to achieve net-zero water and energy use: solar panels are hidden from view at ground-level by an inverted terrace along the perimeter, while a rainwater catchment system funnels rainwater from roof scuppers into pools along the sides of the house. The water flows downhill through a pair of channels along the north and south sides of the house, allowing it to aerate before being collected in tanks to be used for non-potable purposes such as showers and laundry.
In the absence of fresh rainfall, existing reserves of water are pumped continuously through the system of pools and channels, creating a calming—and constantly filtering—exterior water feature.
By considering the balance between monetary cost and functional efficiency, the client's sense of value is honored through durable, efficient, and multipurpose design elements.
Energy-modeling during the design process (accounting for the dimensions of the home's roof overhangs and the orientation of the site to daily patterns of sunlight) revealed that double-pane windows would provide greater energy-efficiency than significantly more expensive triple-pane windows, while adding a second layer of drywall would further increased energy-efficiency and thermal comfort at a low cost. These two decisions embody our commitment to integrated design—in which all systems and materials work together harmoniously to optimize a building’s performance—over conventional wisdom.
An inverted clerestory roof terrace provides distant views, brings daylight into the center of the house, and allows the home's solar panels to be hidden from view at ground-level.
Value is also evident in the home's adaptable floor plan: an intersecting configuration of sliding doors allow what is normally a den and adjoining bathroom set off from the main living area to convert into a self-contained private guest suite when necessary.
This solution eliminates wasted space and allowed the client to avoid the added cost of a guest wing that would, more often than not, remain empty.
In the context of this design, we primarily innovated along two vectors: the functional and the experiential.
Functional innovations include the building's underground "energy piers"—structural piers that serve a dual purpose as geothermal wells for heating and cooling—and a group of skylight chimneys and slot vents that take advantage of convective flow, allowing cool air to flow through the house without the security breach of leaving a ground-level window open.
The latter innovation bridges the gap between the functional and the experiential: thermal complexities like a cool breeze cutting through warm air are often found in nature, but are considered antithetical to conventional ideas of a building necessarily being kept at a single constant, artificial temperature. Such thermal experiences are in fact pleasing to the occupant and underscore the feeling of connection between the home and the surrounding natural environment.
Grounded in Carrie Meinberg Burke's graduate thesis work, much of our experiential innovation in this house deals with how architecture can affect human perception in ways that may or may not be apparent to a building's occupants.
While the home sits, in reality, quite close to its neighbors, the windows are calibrated so that sight-lines are entirely unencumbered by adjacent houses, giving a sense of complete tranquility and privacy. To accomplish this, each window is set at a slightly different angle. These subtle changes in orientation reflect different segments of the surrounding landscape, and result in the occupant feeling distinctly more “in the wilderness” from inside the house than they do outside.