Monday, October 29, 2007
The following text and images are courtesy Ripple Design, for their Courtyard House project in Los Angeles, California.
What does it mean, in a big city, to be home? With this courtyard house, designer Thomas Robertson integrates these two seemingly contradictory experiences. The urban experience is filtered into the house while an intimate sense of privacy is preserved. Proceeding through the house, the courtyard reveals itself as a kind of plaza on a micro-urban scale ideal for relaxing or entertaining. Utilizing passive strategies of climatic control not only offers financial benefits to the client and a reduced ecological footprint to the community, it also folds in a premium quality of life for its inhabitants. Just one example of this is the courtyard doors. When opened, the outside becomes the inside of the house. Various combinations of these doors opened and closed can regulate comfort via breezes and heat gain as well as diverse social interactions.
The control, the fine-tuning of these low-technology mechanical parts can be likened to a sailboat as opposed to a speedboat. It is in the infinite choices made, the lightness of touch, the coordination of efforts, the quality of craft that steer its course. This is in sharp contrast to the flip of a switch or a foot to a pedal. It is living as a participatory experience which defines it.
Still, that is not to say all decisions are made by the occupants alone, that the building has designed itself. Far from it. Designing this type of home requires careful attention to detail and a great dedication to thoroughly thinking things through. The way in which the house is nestled into the hillside; the thickening of specific walls and ceilings; the exploitation of dense or reflective materials; all these utilize thermal mass to modulate heat gain and eliminate the need for air conditioning systems.
Technological systems do play a significant role in the house. Where systems are utilized, they are highly efficient. Solar cells heat water and create electrical energy. In fact, this house creates all of its own power, feeding its surpluses back into the city grid.
The emphasis here is that the choice to reduce the ecological footprint can start in the home. Deciding to use local craftsmen and materials means fewer resources are necessary or wasted. Many of the materials are sustainably forested, long-lasting and break down easily in landfills. The ultimate choice is to improve the quality of life in order to reduce the perceived need - especially in a city like Los Angeles - to wander so frequently from home.