It started out at 5am as a Play Dough model. Three trapezoidal volumes--a main house and an "artist-in-residence studio pod" on the steeply sloped site and a connecting bridge with master suite and art gallery on top connecting the two. The three central program elements for the project were two independent living areas – the main house and a guest house/artist studio – as well as dedicated gallery and storage spaces to house an extensive photography collection with its attendant light control issues. Owners Frank Konhaus and Ellen Cassilly share a love of contemporary architecture and have an affinity toward asymmetrical designs claiming non parallel wall arrangements give an “active” feel to their desired program. Views to the forest and stream below are to the North.
My wife and I occupy the main house and plan to invite visiting artists for month-long working residencies in the studio. The trapezoidal template provided a powerful organizing force to the floor plan and yielded visually stimulating interior and exterior spaces. The design includes liberal fenestration including extensive clerestory windows that line the perimeter of the volumes and give the appearance of floating roofs as well as maximize reflected light without allowing direct sunlight on the photography collection. The metal roof over the bridge was pushed down at the main pod to bring southern light via a second clerestory into the living area to the North. The site’s steep slope allowed for a walk-in basement level for art storage and utility spaces. A carport and stone landscape retaining walls built from site-excavated stone complete the program.
An extensive and massive steel framework with multiple large frames is entirely integrated into the forms and belies the lightness of the entire structure. The architect worked with a building performance consultant to achieve a very tight thermal envelope both for energy efficiency and thermal and humidity control for the artwork. Ratings up to R60 have been achieved at the roof with up to 18 inches of dry pack cellulose insulation.
We made extensive use of artist designed and fabricated elements including both stair handrails, outdoor shower surround, and the column surround at the main entrance. A decorative cedar ceiling along the underside of both the interior and exterior runs of the bridge allows a clear reading of this volume within the home. An unusual design element is our incorporation of wrought iron municipal tree grates for an interior entrance pad and as a pad for a turnstile mounted Rais woodstove in the living room.
The house is located on an extremely steep, rocky site above a 90 degree bend in the New Hope Creek in Orange County, NC. The house was designed to “step lightly” on the slope so as to minimize the footings and the likelihood of encountering rock during excavation, to allow surface drainage to pass by and under the house, and most importantly to maintain the fabulous views of Duke Forest. Outdoor spaces are a principle focus incorporating a south facing roof terrace with outdoor shower, screened porch, multiple decks, and an at-grade terrace. A tree survey helped to guide siting and the three main volumes surround a large beech tree. Solar panels on the upper metal roof provide hot water for both living spaces and a large cistern under the screened porch captures rain water from the sun terrace and the lower bridge roof.
It is a very complicated house both structurally and mechinically but at the core it has been a very pure, albeit long, traditional architechtural process of designing to fulfull a unique program. We have incorporated many substantive "green" elements in the design albiet many of the less flashy ones. This blog is not, however, a green technology forum but the story of my wife and I realizing our home. We love contemporary architecture, art, and artists and this house celebrates those. We have stayed remarkably true to the original Play Dough concept. The rest was just three years of details!
The primary materials are stucco on the two pods and vertical cedar T&G siding on the bridge. Decks and the screened porch are ipe. The bridge roof is metal and the rest of the roofs are membrane.