Casa Incubo is a modular home consisting of eight shipping containers two stories high, built as a live/work space by architect Maria Jose Trejos in Escazú, an upscale suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica. Completed in 2013, the 4,305 square foot (400 square meters) property is not only surrounded by an abundance of nature, but it also encircles it with the structure enveloping a large cedar tree. This fabulous feature represents the principle concept of the project, which is an icon of sustainability.
Description from the architects: This design was conceived as a modular concept with eight reusable 40’ High Cube containers, united by a central two-story module that serves as the unifying element for the rest of the spaces. This articulating space is highly versatile and can serve various purposes, both as a social area and workspace: the house “gets dressed and undressed” according to the activities being carried out, with options including a main room, a high- definition audiovisual reproduction space, a photography studio and a publicity studio.
The project is also a result of the “interconnection” of containers that provides an additional surface, so that with four containers, the central module achieves 95 square meters of additional space, significantly reducing the building materials needed. At the same time, one of the second-story containers can shift lightly to one side to create exterior spaces with the use of a terrace and vestibule, with a secondary access on the facade.
This project questions the need for excessively large spaces, and challenges its occupants to be efficient. The project’s first level serves as a workspace and social area, while private rooms and space for private study are developed on the second level; the exterior walkway leads to the stairs that connect with the third?floor terrace, an open living space.
The bamboo covering, or “skin,” on the northeastern facade is composed of mobile panels that protect the inner spaces from solar radiation, and can be manipulated according to the sun’s movement during the afternoon hours. This skin also creates movement on the facade.
The cedartree, which predates the project on this land, plays a very important role in the placement of the home in the lot; the home was designed so that the tree can be seen from any point of the house. Sliding bamboo panels on the west side of the house can be adjusted to provide shade during the later part of the day.
The shape of the house also responds to the weather conditions of this particular location: the central two-story module acts as a cross-ventilation lung, and the western facade is glazed to achieve natural light.
Various considerations were taken into account to minimize the house’s environmental impact, from its design and materials to its energy conservation systems. For example, materials were chosen that are renewable, reusable or recyclable, as well as durable and low-maintenance. Wood from the branches of the cedar tree was used in stairs and other furniture elements. The deck is made of wood from certified renewable sources, mixed with recycled plastic; the flooring is made of polished concrete and bamboo, among other materials.
In addition, the house has rainwater collection systems for toilets and irrigation, and is set up for solar panels; most of the doors in the home are reused container doors, its hot water is heated by the sun, the cross-ventilation eliminates the need for air conditioning, and the natural light virtually eliminates the need for electrical lighting during the day.
The use of construction containers lends a rich contrast to the design, while also reducing the environmental impact by employing an already existing element, avoiding the CO2 emissions that would have been generated by producing cement and transporting traditional construction materials to the site, not to mention a less invasive earth-moving procedure. We estimate that the use of the container reduced construction time by 20% and the total cost by approximately 20% as well.
The slanted roof above the garage, painted white to reflect the heat in the tropical environment, also contains a solar heating system for water. The home also features a rainwater collection system, particularly useful during the long rainy season.
Photos: Sergio Pucci
Northwest Harbor House is a contemporary single story raised structure that has been designed by Bates Masi + Architects, located in East Hampton, New York. This stunning single family home is comprised of 1,895 square feet of living space.
Straddling freshwater wetlands and a tidal estuary just six feet above sea level, this house’s site demands extraordinary sensitivity to environmental concerns. Local zoning restricts the structure’s maximum coverage and proximity to wetland areas, while FEMA requirements set the first floor structure above the base flood elevation. The house’s basic massing is therefore predetermined, limited to a one-story, 1,900-square-foot design, raised eight feet above the ground. The spaces within this envelope are arranged, articulated, and fenestrated based on an innovative structural system that infuses the house’s inner areas with light and circulating air.
Whereas most waterfront construction uses pilings to establish an artificial ground plane upon which a conventional house is built, these structural members are integral in this project: sixteen exposed, glue-laminated piles stake out the enclosing walls for each of the three bedrooms and extend continuously from the ground through the roof. The spaces between these piles house “utility” functions: closet, desk, laundry, pantry, and shower compartment. In addition to these conventional utilities, three vertical voids are opened between the piles to serve the spaces around them.
Without occupying any of the limited allowed coverage, these open areas add considerable value by improving the house’s interior environmental quality and diminishing its impact on the local environment. The benefit is threefold: each opening draws light though the interior spaces to the carport below, conducts rainwater from the roof deck to the ground via integral downspouts carved into the piles, and ventilates by siphoning air through the middle of the structure.
At the roof, the projecting piles divide the space between a deck directly coinciding with the living areas below and a modular planting system installed above each bedroom to reduce runoff. The projecting piles also serve as supports for photovoltaics that power geothermal pumps, utilizing the abundance of high ground water to heat and cool the house. At the ground level, the space below the house is utilized for parking and storage to minimize the footprint on the site.
By allowing voids to permeate through the house, the owners have multiple visual connections to the landscape from below, within, and above, encouraging a sense of place.
Photos: Bates Masi + Architects
Skidmore Passivhaus merges contemporary design with the highest level of energy efficiency, designed by In Situ Architecture, located in an existing neighborhood or post-war houses in Portland, Oregon.
From the architect: Comprised of 1,956 square feet of gross living space, the residence provides a true live / work condition. Two separate buildings address the program requirements while creating a unique indoor / outdoor space between.
High levels of insulation, extremely airtight construction (tested at .32ach50), high performing triple glazed european windows, and a super-efficient heat recovery ventilator allow the structure to meet the stringent requirements of the German Passivhaus standard.
Generous amounts of south facing glazing (.5 shgc) maximize the solar gains for most of the year, while motorized exterior aluminum shades can be lowered to block unwanted summer heat gain resulting in extremely comfortable temperatures year round.
An extensive green roof helps manage all stormwater on site, while a roof mounted 4.32 kW PV array provides enough electricity to result in a near net zero and truly sustainable building.
Photos: Courtesy of In Situ Architecture
4 Springs Lane is a contemporary custom home designed by Robert M. Gurney Architect, sited on 24 acres of rolling topography, open fields and woodlands in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Extensive site investigation, including erecting scaffolding at various locations, resulted in the placement of the house high on one of the hills, overlooking a meadow at the base of woodlands.
From the architect: The house is organized as a series of volumes, arranged linearly and positioned to optimize distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The structure itself becomes a threshold and defines a more intimate, manicured outdoor environment between the house and the edge of the forest. The linear organization allows the majority of spaces to maintain mountain views while providing accessibility to a terrace with the swimming pool and the manicured area. The two-story living / dining space has floor-to-ceiling glass at each end, providing a lens through which to view the mountains from the terrace.
The rigorous, refined and geometric forms of the building are designed in sharp contrast to the undulating, natural landscape. The contrast is intended to magnify the beauty of the site while allowing the house to provide a framework to view the landscape. These views become the orienting device. Simple volumes comprised of glass, wood, stone and fiber cement panels are combined to render a more complex composition while garnering a serene unity.
Interior spaces are active and intricate, tranquil and minimal. With vistas in all directions, large expanses of glass allow the landscape views to provide the primary sensory experience.
A geothermal HVAC system, energy efficient appliances, wall and ceiling infrastructure with maximum insulation, a rain-screen cladding system, extensive daylighting and solar-sensored shades are employed with the expectation of reducing fossil fuel consumption. Large operable windows and doors are placed to provide natural ventilation.
This house is pragmatic and pristine. Proportion, texture and light organize and animate the project. The composition is simultaneously complex and distilled. Most importantly, the house provides a framework to experience an inherently beautiful landscape.
Photos: Maxwell MacKenzie
96 Golden Beach Drive is a residential project with a minimalist zen feel, completed in 2012 by SDH Studio, located in Golden Beach, Florida. The residence is nestled on a 13,000 square foot lot, designed around a 27 foot high space that would be the heart of this home.
From the architects: With the idea of bringing in the outdoor landscape, the house opens up towards the water and fills the triple height space with natural light and green.
With a Minimalist/Zen approach every space was carefully designed to accommodate a family with three children. The house reinforces one of the basic philosophies of sdh studio which emphasizes the value of environmentally sustainable design.
Photos: Robin Hill
The RainShine House is a contemporary LEED Platinum home for a couple of empty nesters designed by architect Robert M. Cain, located in Decatur, Georgia. The home was designed as a retirement residence with provision for visiting children and extended family members. One of the most nontoxic new, single-family houses in the United States, the house has achieved and exceeded the highest level of “green architecture” possible through the United States Green Building Council’s LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] for Homes Pilot Program. It is the first modernist residence to achieve the much-coveted LEED Platinum level in the Southeastern United States.
The two-story home is comprised of 2800-square feet of living space with three-bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, nestled on a 1/3-acre infill lot. RainShine is contemporary in design and is named for key design features. The living room, dining, kitchen and guest bedrooms are sheltered by a unique butterfly roof structured with steel beams spanned by exposed 1- 1/2” tongue-and-groove wood decking. The roof floats above continuous clerestories allowing light to flood into the interior. Light shelves around the clerestory sills bounce and diffuse natural light throughout the interior.
The butterfly roof is designed to capture rainfall for a rain harvest system located in the basement (Rain) and is oriented to maximize southern exposure for a roof mounted photovoltaic system (Shine). The butterfly design, with it’s inverted gable, simplifies rainwater collection, eliminates extensive gutter and downspout systems and the associated maintenance headaches common in conventional gabled or hip roofed homes.
The home features large expanses of thermally broken glazing with solar shades and operable windows. Spaces are defined by “thick walls” containing storage, book shelves, niches, pass-throughs, closets, audio visual equipment, systems, etc. Except at certain utility areas, interior walls stop short of the ceilings and are topped by glazing, thus enhancing the floating roof effect.
Photos: Paul Hultberg Photography
LM Guest House was designed to celebrate the beauty of the surrounding landscape by Desai/Chia Architecture, located on a rolling farm property in upstate New York. The Duchess County property showcases sweeping views through an all-glass facade magnify the spacious, open feel of the living areas.
This 2,000 square foot guest house is situated on a rock outcropping that overlooks a trout pond and open farmland. Designed as a contemplative retreat for weekend visitors, the house allows one to experience the expansive surrounding landscape with vast unobstructed views. The house integrates a number of sustainable design strategies including geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floors, natural ventilation, motorized solar shades, photovoltaic panels, and rainwater collection for irrigation.
Landscape design strategies were closely tied to the design of the house. A tight palette of native vegetation highlights vistas and other natural features on the property while also managing storm water run-off. Local bluestone slabs and shale excavated from the site create outdoor seating areas and pathways; a bluestone slab terrace between the house and a nearby grove of pine trees provides an intimate outdoor room for entertaining and dining. Bluestone steps from the terrace lead to a barbeque area and an outdoor shower in the woods.
Open views to nature create a stunning backdrop for the main living and sleeping areas. A main bedroom and two ‘couchette’ nooks with built-in bunk beds provide accommodations for six overnight guests.
The open living and sleeping areas flow around a compact slatted wood core that disguises the mechanical, storage, and bathing spaces. Two sleeping couchettes with built-in bunk beds provide efficient accommodations for additional weekend guests. Natural white oak wood detailing provides warmth and texture throughout the home.
The couchette nooks, bathroom, and storage rooms are housed within a slatted wood core in the middle of the house. The custom wood wall system surrounding the core allows natural light to penetrate through to the inner spaces of the home by day; at night, light emanates from the wood core and provides a warm, inviting glow in the living areas. The slatted system also allows the whole house to ‘breathe’; comfortable natural ventilation occurs throughout the house, even in the sleeping couchettes and storage closets.
An innovative steel frame structure allows the roof to cantilever dramatically over the open living areas and bedroom.
The structural design for the house relies on 4 steel columns imbedded in the wood core; the roof cantilevers out from these 4 columns. This elegant structural solution uses the minimum amount of materials to achieve expansive, open living areas at both ends of the house. The facade of the house was designed as a thermally robust system of high-performance, triple-paned glass units that vary in width from 10’ to 20’. The entire assembly was prefabricated off-site, shipped to the site in one container, and erected by crane in 2 days.
The home employs several sustainable design strategies including geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floors, motorized solar shading, photovoltaic panels, and rainwater harvesting.
Photos: Paul Warchol
Trees on the Roof is modern single family residence designed to bring the outside indoors by Meditch Murphey Architects, located in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Situated on a tight urban site, the house is surrounded by a lush fully developed tree canopy at the roof level which we wanted to be able to inhabit. So nestling into this canopy and developing the roof scape underneath it drove the design.
The roof is home to planters large enough to support twenty foot trees and a garden with soil deep enough to grow broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Several balconies and sitting areas snuggle under the canopies. And, of course, there’s a solar array.
Natural passive systems were employed including natural shading, day lighting, and natural ventilation. So in addition to geo-thermal, solar panels, a TRV, radiant heating, super-insulation and green materials throughout, we can expect a substantial fall harvest from the rooftop.
The architects wanted to save water by utilizing a 1,500-gallon cistern, drought-tolerant plants, a rain garden, and pervious paving. They also wanted flexibility. The house transitions from one to four bedrooms by converting multipurpose spaces. The first floor is 100% ADA adaptable and visitor accessible, promoting “aging in place.”
Carbon impact was reduced by using super-insulated walls and roofs, geothermal wells, 6KW solar array, LED lighting, and an electric car (solar-powered). The architects educated the public by offering pre- and post-construction tours. Vocational school students learned deconstruction methods when removing the dilapidated, existing house previously residing on the site.
The L-shaped plan simultaneously creates spaces that receive light from multiple sides while promoting cross-ventilation. High ceilings and expansive operable glazing seamlessly integrate indoor spaces with the outdoors, while an indoor garden enlivens the stair tower year-round. The stair core also functions as a passive air chimney. Computer-controlled exterior louvers defeat solar gain in summer and optimize passive solar heating in winter.
The living room was designed as a kind of greenhouse – one that could open up completely to the outside.
The kitchen opens out to a raised herb garden.
Clerestories allow light in but not the view.
This vine reaches all three floors.
Two of the baths are complete showers with decking floor boards through which the water drains away.
The form of the building and its landscape are sculpted to store, filter, and reuse rainwater. Rooftop planters and vegetable gardens provide thermal protection, storm-water management, an abundance of seasonal food, and a bird’s-eye retreat.
The house’s walkability credentials are supported by nearby shops and public transportation. Integrated bike racks encourage homeowners to skip the car and start pedaling.
Can you see the glass floor in the living room – it’s designed to bring light to the lower level.
A studio space on the ground level.
Located in an established neighborhood of mostly conventional houses, this project provokes a new way of thinking about how we design, build, and live. The house is an integrated part of the landscape, a testimony to building sustainably without sacrificing comfort and beauty.
Photos: Michael Moran
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