From the Field: Literally (House on a Prairie Site)

May 11, 2017

AirtightnessBiophilic DesignEco DesignFrom the FieldGreen ArchitectureZero Energy

This is one of those dream projects: great client, great site, and a design that just fell together naturally. And the team at Mike Von Behren Builders is fantastic–really getting into the project and executing beautifully. As one of our first larger rural projects, this was an opportunity to incorporate larger site moves, and let building and site development embrace the flow of water as well as sun, wind, and views. Our approach has been to use biophilic design principles to shape the project, such as prospect and refuge (for siting and layout), visual connection to nature (not a great challenge on this site!), and presence of water, while conceiving of the architecture as an integral part of the site.

Approach view (from south)

The project has three components:

Entry approach view: garage to left, guest house behind, main house to right.

The guest house, finished first so the owner could live there while the rest was being built; it’s pulled to the north, behind the house, but with a perfect view down to the pond.

The main house, whose front porch welcomes you on arrival (and will do so better once the temporary cross-bracing is removed), is designed to orchestrate everyday living with the splendid site: views downhill to the pond, south to the (soon-to-be) restored prairie, north to the outdoor kitchen, and on every side, to the mature forest of oak, hickory, sycamore, and other hardwoods. The house opens up to the treetops, down to the pond, and out to screened porches for sleeping (upper level) and dining (middle level). Below the screened porches is an outdoor shower for summer use.

Entry to living-dining space, pond and woods beyond

Master bedroom loft looking down to pond

Once again working with our friends at EcoAchievers, we are pursuing LEED certification on the project.

Some notes on materials: the exterior was meant to be rugged and fire-resistant. We used primarily corrugated metal siding and roofing, and the dark wood you see is shou sugi ban, a Japanese style of charring wood to make it rot- and fire-resistant. The window trims were made of cedar and will be stained to match the dark siding–those racing stripes will get toned down. We’re going to leave the porch timbers to weather naturally, though, as a skeletal connecting element with its own identity. We’ll post more pictures as the house shapes up over the summer!