GREEN ARCHITECTURE: Desert House
We just finished designing a contemporary house, deeply sinked into green, environment-friendly principles. It’s been designed to perform particularly well in very hot climates, such as Australia, Mexico, hotter part of the USA. We’ve called it, strangely enough, “Desert House”.
You may already have seen the “Stay Grounded” project, which was awarded in 2010 with second prize at the international competition “Saie Awards” (jury led by renowed international architect Mario Cucinella), and second prize at AGAF awrds also in 2010. The Desert House is in our minds the next step in our research for regional, vernacular architecture fused with modern, contemporary design.
The Green Factor.
- – Walls. The walls are made of clay bricks for the inner part (coupled with plaster), then an insulation panel, and then for the exterior (to protect the insulation panels from hot, cold, rain) we choose local stone. The insulation panel will work in the colder seasons, and also during night, when, in extreme, very hot climates, the temperature falls down with thermic excursions of even 20/30 celsius degrees. The mass of the wall, given by the stone outer skin and the clay bricks inner structure, will work great when outside it’s hot.
- – Inner Garden. The inner garden works as a passive ventilation system. Besides being a nice place to relax, have a chat with friend, look at the clouds or at the stars with a warm, lively fireplace in the middle, surrounded by local greenery, it is also a place to let air pressure differences start passive ventilation to the inside of the house. Just open opposite sides windows and the ones that face the inner court, and let wind and air to the trick!
Also, some horizontal, movable curtains made of light colored cloth will give shadows and protection in the central hours of the day, when the sun it’s high in the sky. Frames around the windows will at the same time protect a bit more the big windows, avoiding overwarming phenomena. A lower wall will create three smaller gardens outside the bedrooms and the studio, giving the two bedrooms, which have a lower window to let light come in while preserving privacy, a direct view to the cactus flavored greenery.
The fireplace will give a slower, more relaxed rhythm to the day to day routine, allowing to stop a minute to enjoy life as it is. It is sinked in the ground, to hide itself from the view, and to be lived and felt as a nest, an intimate, safe place to recover from everyday stress. The Desert House features also a system to collect rainy water, to be depurated and used for several uses: garden irrigation, wc and sanitary uses. It features a buried tank collecting rain from the roof (which has a metallic covering, so a higher percentage of water collected) and the inner court.
A top view clearly shows how the cloth shades throw shadows on the garden and therefore on the windows too when the sun’s lower upon the horizon. Also, on the right the garden with native greenery and pebbles. In the middle, the fireplace with outside, buried seating. On the left, external decks to enjoy open air.
- Solar Chimney Windows. Here’s a concept we developed some years ago in a project for energy enhancement for a client of us. Here we pushed it further, making it a deep part of the passive ventilation concept. The windows facing the exteriors feature a double system: the inner window is a “classical” double glazed one, while the external one, on the outer edge of the wall, consists of a simple layer of glass, serving as a greenhouse, but with an opper part that can be opened and let warm air flow towards the outside. So the process is: we keep the inner windows and the ones facing the inner garden open, and the top part of the “greenhouse window” opened too… The sun (the lower one, like earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, since when it is higher on the horizon the double roof will provide shades to protect the glass parts) will heat the outer, single layer glass and the air behind it, making the air warmer and lighter. The colder air coming from inside the house and the inner garden will push the warmer one to the outside, lowering the perception of hot weather and helping contrast the feel of humidity in the air.
- Light Cannons. The two huge light cannons serve both as a lighting device to the two bedrooms and as another passive ventilation primer. Since the main window is a low, horizontal one to preserve privacy towards the inner garden/court, another ceiling window had to be provided for lighting purposes. It gives a soft mood and permits to take a look to the sky from inside the bedroom.
So the bedrooms get natural light from the wall thanx to a low, protected window, and from the ceiling thanx to the light cannons. The effect we wanted to achieve is a Vermeer-like, nordic, soft and diffused lighting. You can take a look at the stars at night just by laying on the bed.
- Double roof cover. The”ceiling” part consists of two different roof. The inner one is the “real” roof, serving as the upper closing of the volumes. The outer, upper one, is a metal umbrella which will take care of all shading duties when the sun is high in the sky.
The part of it “protruding” from the external line of the walls is studied to avoid direct insolation of the windows during the hotter hours of the day. When the sun gets lower above the horizon, then the Solar Chimney Windows system start to take care of its duties. Also, as said above, the “umbrella” serves as a rain water collecting device. Over the upper part of it, also photovoltaic panels can be placed, to serve the house with all the electric energy it may need.
The interiors show a minimalistic, almost nordic feel to it. Wooden floors, white and light grey plaster, essential and design-classic furniture. Of course it’s all a matter of taste. But keeping the furnishing “neutral” in our minds would give the opportunity to have a clearer, pure perception of space and volume, of open-ness and of the airy, spacey rooms.
A section exemplifies several of the concepts we faced in the design process. It becomes also cleare the whole idea of passive, trasversal ventilation, and of an inner core (the garden) around which all the house develops and organize.
Some technical drawings will also help us making our concepts clearer, since our english language skills aren’t the most shiny out there.