by Jerry ElengicalMar 11, 2022
It would be rather easy, even colloquial, to ascribe a residence such as the Miner Road House to the ranks of a plethora of similarly proportioned summer homes in California that appear by the dozens among similar real estate listings. A closer look, however, at the inner machinations of this metallic-block like residence will reveal that there is much more going on. Its most striking and definitive characteristic - it's corten steel rain screen that wraps the building in a literal rustic sheet, exuding age and resilience in a striking melange of orange and greys - turns out to be a measure more than an architectural statement. The house, similarly, turns out to be a preservative sanctuary, built in accordance with a comprehensive brief by the residing family, a couple who are environmental scientists, and their two sons. Environmental consciousness is quite uniquely fused in an ageing edifice amidst an enviable natural setting.
The clients’ specific demand for a residence with net-zero annual performance came to be reflected nearly at the inception of the holistic design process, according to the team at Faulkner Architects. An additional layer of the design narrative for the residence is the fact that it was conceived as a remodel of a 1954 ranch house at the foot of a hill, next to a seasonal creek. While the original plans for the residence design were relatively expansive, the unsuitability of the existing structure and soils on the site meant that the house would find its footing on the former structure’s existent footprint. The site’s history thus comes alive in the house, with a bit of a narrative allegory, with the fireplace of the original house now serving as a rigid structural support for the new one. Wrapped in concrete and optimised to bear the load, a tethering between past and present was forged. This also meant that the new structure would maintain the same intimate relationship with an old oak on the site, foregoing the need for additional grading.
A north-faced entrance to the house is marked by a steel plate covered walkway, as the house opens up to flushes of natural lighting within the communal space of the house. High-performance, floor-to-ceiling glazing sheaths this double-height space, ensuring expansive views of the oak and the greens around along with optimal heat gain. Developing much akin to a typical open living, mezzanine floor plan, the house’s spaces find natural consonance and connection with each other. A master bedroom and study are stacked above the kitchen and nook, directly adjacent to the double height volume of the family space. Secondary bedrooms on the lower level lie beside an extendable hallway, wrapping an outdoor dining area situated between the kitchen and family room. A rather special intervention is a screened pacing deck for taking long phone calls, while primarily shading the upper level from the afternoon summer sun.
While the house’s functionality and spatiality border the typical, its materiality is where the Miner Road House exudes a distinct character, and a latent mechanism that allows operational savings for its owners. Materials and methods were carefully considered in the house’s conception, with an emphasis on the balance between first costs, involving manufacture and accrual, and lifecycle costs. Simple yet bold choices, including the 14 gauge corten steel rain screen for the exterior skin, oak wood in the interiors, and shotcrete in the foundation, lent the advantage of nearly zero annual maintenance cost and lower labour costs, along with reduced complexity in detailing owing to a certain purity in mass and form. This further allowed for reallocation of a large part of the budget in optimising and upgrading mechanical, insulation, and glazing systems that all prove to be long term investments in energy savings for the residence.
In making the net zero vision a reality, the residence further comes armed with an array of sophisticated systems that it expertly conceals within its monolithic metallic appearance. An 8.1 kW photovoltaic assembly provides an unhindered supply of renewable energy on-site, even touted to produce a surplus in its first year of operation. In a somewhat paradoxical nod to natural living that the house professes, rainwater is collected via a waterfall from the roof at the end of the hallway and is stored in subterranean tanks for use in toilets and laundry. Greywater is collected separately and reused for irrigation, while an energy recovery ventilator is used to provide fresh air.
The paradox I mentioned earlier comes full circle as one takes note of these measures in the house’s interiors. Unfinished oak ceilings and walls, although acoustically detailed to intentioned finesse, become increasingly reminiscent of the oak tree on its grounds, sheltering the residence. The smell of it, a resounding tap on its surface as one takes a walk through the house, and the sound of the rainwater, machinated into free-falling through engineered spouts is bound to build a multisensory connection to the immediate landscape outside. “The sum total of the limited and landscape-driven materials presents a relaxed and quiet built environment that allows the senses to focus on the natural environment. A haptic connection to the rhythms of our planet is present in the lives of the family”, states Faulkner Architects’ design team on these definitive material choices.
Name: Miner Road House
Location: Orinda, California
Architect: Faulkner Architects
Interior Design: Faulkner Architects with DZINE Concept
Civil Engineering: Lea & Braze Engineering
Structural Engineering: CFBR Structural Group
Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical Engineering: Davis Energy Group
Landscape Architect: Thuilot Associates
Acoustics: Bob Hodas Acoustic Analysis
3D Model: Garrett Faulkner
Contractor: Ethan Allen Construction