06 / 10 / 2020
We are well into construction of the Morrison Earth Home and its unique shape and design are beginning to express themselves fully. But what was the driver of this design? The Site. The constraints of the site are unique not only by the property lines, setbacks, and easements, but also location on the north-eastern slope of the mountain. The property lines converge at the north creating a pyramidal shape with the majority of usable land located along the southern portion of the site. We knew going into the project that the clients were interested in the passive design and greenhouse concepts common in Earthship Biotecture©. In order to utilize a south facing greenhouse space the design needed to incorporate a lowered courtyard surrounded by a retaining wall to allow sunlight to penetrate deep into the spaces. The shed roof that pitches with its high side to the south further opens up the south face of the home. Incorporating the greenhouse and shed roof opening to the south is classic passive solar design. The sun warms the thermal mass of the concrete floor throughout the day. The concrete then dissipates the heat during the night helping to maintain a constant interior temperature. Using this method of heating along with building the house into the hillside creates an incredibly constant thermal environment, lessening the need for mechanical heating and cooling.
Trying to lessen the large amounts of excavation already needed for the courtyard the final location of the house was solidified by proximity to the existing gravel drive. The program was then carved out between the constraints of the setbacks, existing drive, trees, and courtyard. From uphill the house retains a low profile against its natural surroundings and only reveals itself from downhill.
The building materials used in the home are a combination of necessity, efficiency, and style. Based on the mountainous environment, most of the walls were constructed using concrete which also served as the retaining wall. Where needed an additional insulated wall was added to the inside to soften the appearance and gain thermal performance. The standing seam metal roof was incorporated for durability and ability to shed snow and water at a greater rate than typical asphalt shingle roofs. These two elements are responsible for a large part of the overall architecture and will last well into the future.
During excavation we found that the site has relatively shallow bedrock and work was halted. Typically this would have caused delays with the remainder of excavation and into foundations in the traditional design-bid-build work flow. However, with the design build process we were able to identify the issue and work through a solution between the Architects, Construction Managers, and Excavation subcontractor on site. With the solution decided the Engineer was contacted, arrived for inspection, and signed off on the change within the next 24 Hours. Work was able to continue without major lag in scheduling or time intensive communications.
Working within uncommon constraints can be incredibly challenging but can also produce quality designs not possible otherwise.