zeroplus explores how architecture can develop a symbiotic relationship with its surroundings. In this project, a cabin that is a retreat from the intense experiences of urban living, they found a number of ways to develop this ecological model.
They started with a strict set of site rules that governed the design and construction process.
The most important rule was that the previously undisturbed site full of mature Douglas fir and cedar trees, some up to three feet in diameter with a dense marine underbrush, including salal bushes, would be left as undisturbed as possible.
The second was to focus on structural and material systems that not only reinforced the primary idea about non-disturbance but also took their clues from the efficiency of natural systems, primarily driven by lightness. Lightness talks not only of efficiency and conservation but perhaps a more esoteric idea that lightness can be an elevation of spirit brought on by a rich connection to site.
Finally to address the occupants' needs for thermal comfort in this temperate environment they split the floor plan into two distinct zones; one exposed and one protected, providing a way to enjoy the sensory experience of the forest but to have a warm protected refuge from it as well.
zeropplus' use of lightness can be understood in two ways. The first was literally the weight of the materials and the second the more difficult to define quality of uplifting the spirit.
In order to achieve lightness in material we first worked to create a lightweight structural system that efficiently delivered stability to the whole building. This prefabricated steel system relies on tension for support that greatly reduces the weight of individual structural members.
Finally the roof, an extremely light system of structurally insulated panels or SIP's (http://www.pbssips.com.) SIPS were plant fabricated offsite and quickly installed as a series of simple large panels. These panels are not only light but are highly thermally efficient due to the nature of their construction in which two layers of oriented strand board are glued to a dense internal layer of insulation that is acting both structurally and thermally.
Lightness in spirit is concerned with a more difficult thing to describe. Other than to say it comes from intuition, a sensibility about the brilliance of the seemingly mundane daily conditions which all play a role that subtly defines that elusive quality, a quality that lightens the mind and hopefully contributes to a healthy and nurturing way of living.
The site strategies included a foundation of minimally invasive concrete disks that raises the house off the ground leaving the plants and wildlife to continue to thrive with access to air and nutrients.
Collaborating with an arborist, we devised a system to allow not only the tree's large tap roots to remain but also to ensure the very small capillary-like roots that trace through the top humus layer continued to access nutrients, water and light.
Another rule was the tight restriction of the area that was to be disturbed during construction - it was controlled by a fence that left only a very small working area surrounding the house itself. Though it made construction more difficult. The final result was a craned-in building that nestles itself into the landscape.
Finally, from a planning perspective, the driveway and parking which are located on a previously disturbed area were separated from the house by a large portion of the site. A small path was created to connect the parking and the house, part of which was a ramp that bridges up to the house creating even more undisturbed area.
The objective of the interior design was to connect the inside of the house with its surroundings, creating an immersive experience. This is achieved not only through the generous use of glass, but with skylights built into the giant roof reaching up through the branches pulling in bright patches of the sun cutting through the tall trees.
By conserving the existing characteristics of the site and connecting to the its richness, its complexity, beauty and ever changing qualities can be observed and understood throughout the diurnal cycle.
Thinking about how the rooms are used and how that can effect their thermal demands led to dividing the project into two distinct thermal zones, a living zone that is glazed and turns outward toward its surroundings connecting directly with the outdoors, and a sleeping zone that is heavily insulated and turns inward and is dark and quiet. This allows for a separation of climates so to speak.
The solution came from the architects' experiences backpacking where they spent the day outside and then at night tucked into a sleeping bag inside a tent. The design solution was a way to balance the differences between being exposed to the outdoors all day and seeking relief, warmth and security to sleep. It also has the added bonus of reducing the heating demands during the night.
This approach aligns the building more closely with the patterns cycles and systems of nature and has great potential for communicating and re-enlivening peoples' connection to the environment and will ultimately lead to a more successful and sustainable way of living.