For Lawrence Scarpa, lead designer on the project, Dwell House II’s modest budget and difficult lot symbiotically combine to create something entirely fresh and unexpected, a house that almost appears programmed by the site itself. The starting point for the design were its site and budget. While Glen and Claudia desired a 2500 square foot home, Scarpa felt this would prove difficult given the project's limited budget, and chose instead to create a smaller, appropriately programmed 1800 SF structure, with a strong connection to the outdoors. Beginning with a large public/living area that occupies over 65% of the home’s square footage—unusually large for a home of this size— the architects were able to maintain a strong quality of spaciousness and flow in the house, by sitting the structure to take direct advantage of the panoramic views to the north, and incorporating a living porch that, when opened, expands the public area of the house by nearly 50%. With so much square footage devoted to living area, however, less remains for the private space of the dwelling. Turning the conventional ratio of public to private space on its head, this becomes a further asset of the house, and something entirely unique: sleeping and bathing areas treated as small, nest-like spaces that give one the impression of sleeping among the stars. The three small bedrooms remain pleasant through their tall ceilings and contact with nature, but are only used for sleeping, saving precious extra footage for larger more spacious public areas. An adaptable playroom/office/den area is positioned as a transitional family space, in a zone between the public and private areas of the house. Implied throughout these choices is an underlying theme that because comfort and retreat will be found through a connection with the environment and an entirely new concept for proportioning space, the large private spaces of conventional thinking become unnecessary, even undesirable.
Another central question of Dwell House II was how to achieve an economical design on a difficult hillside site—not an unusual problem, but difficult to accomplish within a limited budget. While offering interesting views from some directions, the land is steep, with a central swale running through its center. Rather than try to fill in the Swale, however, or divert its natural flow of water, Scarpa intentionally positions the house directly over the swale, and allows floor heights to follow within close proximity to the existing topography. As the swale runs down the hill, it functions as a natural drainage system for the lot, collecting water during storms and creating a wonderful opportunity for a grotto-like environment, which transforms the building’s entrance into a cascading waterfall. The water then continues to flow in a channel at the base of the carport and terminates at the existing catch basin located at Croyton Street below.
Dwell House II also incorporates innovative and economical approaches in its construction technology, its heating and cooling systems, and its use of sustainable design methodologies. The structure is constructed out of innovative, lightweight Structural Concrete Insulated Panels (SCIP) by “Green Sandwich Technologies”, easily assembled and more cost-effective to use than traditional cast-in-place formed concrete and/or frame wall construction. Conceptually, the structure acts as an exo-skeleton and has the ability to achieve conventional spans with greater strength and economy. The SCIP panel construction provides an R-40 average insulation value for the entire house. In addition the panels are made from 100% recycled and post consumer foam and can have up to a 50% fly-ash content in the plaster/concrete finish mix.
As to its sustainable design methodologies and technologies, the planning and design for Dwell House II only emerged after a close consideration of the site and program, to ensure such passive solar design strategies as locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling and heat loads; shaping and orienting the building for exposure to prevailing winds; shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation; and shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution.
Other sustainable design measures include a small number of solar panels have been placed on the slope behind the house. Because the house is sited properly and well insulated the limited number of solar panels produce enough energy to make the house nearly or completely energy neutral. A ground source heat pump with small diameter pipes will be inserted through the water feature and into the hillside directly below the house bringing 60ºC chilled water into the building for natural air-conditioning. The large viewing windows to the south in the public living area will allow the sun to naturally heat the radiators placed along the perimeter of the large room, providing heat in the winter and filtered sunlight during warmer days. This allows natural airflow for both natural cooling and solar radiant heating. The large living area will be cooled only with ample natural ventilation while the smaller private areas are heated and air-conditioned utilizing a highly efficient ground source heat pump.
According to the architects, the physical aspects of being human—the need to eat and sleep—will always be with us, but new challenges to our prescriptive notion of a dwelling need to be met by flexible, adaptable designs and methodologies that offer innovative solutions. When completed, Dwell House II will set a new standard for innovation in design and sustainability on a modest budget. With its reversal of public to private space, flexible adaptation to site, innovative construction materials, and sustainable design methodologies and technologies, it is a true model home for the 21st century.
The Plan, Form and Organization
Responding to the mild climate of Southern California as well as to its modern architectural heritage, the Dwell House features design principles and construction techniques that have evolved from unique opportunities for outdoor living. Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Irving Gill, and Rudolph Schindler, each developed domestic spaces to exploit the potential for outdoor living. The Dwell House seizes this opportunity as well. Fundamental to the conception of the house is the notion of the covered porch, which blurs the boundaries between inside and outside. As a general strategy, design elements were developed to lengthen and extend the space as well as take advantage of opportunities for outdoor living. As a result of a beneficent climate, the residence can effectively increase the limited space it has to occupy.
The house is organized to take maximum advantage of the unique characteristics of the site. The spiral ‘L’ shape organization divides the home into two distinct zones. The public living zone is open and filled with natural light, placed slightly parallel to the street to take full advantage of spectacular views to the north while allowing the space to open to the private hillside on the south side of the building.
The private areas of the house are positioned perpendicular to the street moving up the hill to closely follow the natural topography of the site. This preserves privacy while reducing the need for extensive retaining walls. Only the carport and entry are carved into the site, requiring retaining walls. Moving up the hill and located at the end of the private zone is the multi-purpose family playroom/office/den area. At this point the private zone turns 170 degrees and climbs horizontally back over the homes private and public zone towards Croyden Lane, culminating at the master bed, which captures panoramic views to the north.
Dwell House II is a finely sculpted aesthetic object. However, primary emphasis is given to its spatial effects. The architecture is broadly conceived as spatial experience embodying ideals about living. There is an ease of circulation and a conscientious attitude about material and spatial consumption. Movement and depth are paramount. An unfettered movement from inside to outside cultivates an atmosphere of leisure without losing a sense of boundary or distinction.
The immaterial is as palpable as the material—the potency of void as impressive as the necessity of solid. Mass plays a formative role in the choreography of a continuous flow of space; space flows through and around objects.
Heating and Cooling
Dwell House II incorporated a simple common sense, yet innovative approach towards whole house heating. Using off the shelf technologies in a creative and thoughtful hybrid system this approach set a new standard for innovation is sustainable heating and cooling.
The house is divided into two thermal zones. The living zone utilizes freestanding radiators for heating and relies on ample natural ventilation and shading for cooling. The radiators are placed vertically along the southern edge of the living space within very close proximity to the glass. Their positioning serves a dual purpose allowing the sun to provide direct heat to the radiators while providing a delicate screen like brise-soleil reducing the effects of the sun's glare.
The radiators are aesthetically pleasing and simple. There are no moving parts making it virtually maintenance free. They are approximately 2” deep, 20” wide and 8 feet tall and are spaced 5 feet apart horizontally along the southern glass. The patterning provides uniform heat and is integrated to become part of the formal composition of the house.
The private zone utilizes a highly efficient ground source heat pump. According to the Environmental Protection Agency geothermal exchange is the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning system available.
This marvelous technology relies primarily on the Earth’s natural thermal energy, a renewable resource, to heat or cool the house. The only additional energy the geothermal exchange system will require is a small amount of electricity to concentrate what Mother Nature provides and then to circulate the high-quality heating and cooling. Because the private zones of the house are compact and highly insulated this area will require minimum heating and cooling, promoting even greater efficiency.
Recently accepted revisions to ASHRAE Standard 55 thermal environmental conditions for human occupancy, include a new adaptive comfort standard that allows warmer indoor temperatures for naturally ventilated buildings during summer and in warmer climate zones. According to acclaimed Mechanical Engineer Alan Locke of IBE Consulting Engineers, Dwell House II is so well thought out in terms of thermal comfort that the home should require only a handful of days of cooling over an entire year.
Client: Glen Martin and Claudia Plasencia
Lawrence Scarpa, AIA, Principal-in-Charge, Joshua Ashcroft, Angela Brooks, AIA, Silke Clemens, Christopher Ghatek, Vanessa Hardy, Ching Luk, Justin Patwin, Tim Petersen, Gwynne Pugh, AIA, PE, Lawrence Scarpa, Katrin Terstegen.
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: Alan Locke, PE, IBE Engineering
Sustainablility Engineering: Alan Locke,PE, IBE Engineering, Dr. John Ingersoll, PE, PH.D, Pugh + Scarpa
Structural and Construction Systems: Green Sandwich Technologies
A small note about the Firm:
As announced by Laurence Scarpa, on September 1, 2010, firm principal Gwynne Pugh FAIA ASCE LEEDap has launched Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio. Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio is an architectural and urban design firm that specializes in the design of structures, urban design, planning, sustainability, and consultation to companies and public entities.
In 2011 Pugh + Scarpa has changed it’s name to Brooks + Scarpa.
Together, Gwynne Pugh and Lawrence Scarpa led Pugh + Scarpa Architects for 22 years. Over that period of time the firm won over 50 local, state and national AIA awards. Most recently the firm was awarded the 2010 AIA National Firm of the Year award.