Monday, March 22, 2010

Franconia Residence

This home was designed for a professional downhill skier, and was appropriately sited - on a tight, wedge-shaped lot at the end of a ridge, land sloping away in all directions. Exciting, right? But the land and designated house site posed plenty of challenges.

The good points?

Orientation - Great southern exposure...and eastern...and western...the peak was in that wedge at the north end of the lot, sloping away to the west, the south, and the east.

Views - We did have views! Views of the ski resort across a small valley to the southwest and south, a stunning view of Crawford Notch to the southeast, and Mt. Washington across a wide open valley looking due east.

Dynamic landscape - The ridge and slopes vary in pitch and are strewn with large boulders and outcroppings of granite.   OK, this isn't really a good point, from a construction perspective, but we found it inspiring...

Cool trees - The site was populated with a variety of tall, slender trees, poking up in sharp contrast to the sloping ground and boulders, some perfectly vertical, and others at an angle, flashes of white birch bark, hemlock......I like trees....that will become evident.

The Concept - We devised a scheme consisting of a primary mass containing the private spaces (bedrooms, bathrooms, and garage) which is rooted in the mountain, and a smaller, horizontal mass containing the more public living spaces (kitchen, dining, living, away room) which is cantilevered out over the slope that falls away to the south. A tower element containing the public entrance, and stairs, culminating at a viewing platform, mediates between the two masses.

Seen from the south, on the approach along the road, the home appears organic and unimposing. From the driveway, the home presents a more formal, but still dynamic face, with a dramatic entrance flanked by native, peeled hemlock logs (mirroring the trees on the site), warm natural materials, and angles invoking the surrounding mountains.

On the inside, contemporary post-and-beam framing made from native hemlock and white pine create a warm open-plan living area. The south facing patio doors open onto the cantilevered wood deck and let in the sun's warming rays in the winter.

The living area is anchored by a large stone fireplace and chimney mass, which also creates the warm inglenook in the entry on the opposite side of the stone divider. Bamboo floors throughout the living room are contrasted by natural stone flooring in the entry / inglenook area.

The "away room" can really go away, or be part of the main living area....just slide the custom-built, movable panels open or closed in any combination you like.
Another tree column (this one maple and specifically selected by the owners) marks the entrance to the private zone, as the bamboo tread, open-riser stair climbs past, to the master suite and the viewing platform above. This stair tower provides natural cooling in the summer, as well as outstanding views.

Green stuff you won't see:
Ground-source heat pumps - Some call it geothermal heating and cooling - instead of burning fossil fuels, in the heating seasons, this home gathers heat energy from groundwater beneath the site using energy efficient heat pumps. In the cooling season, the heat pumps remove heat from inside the home and sink it into the ground, cooling the home.

Solar electric (PV) panels - These are on the south-facing roofs and produce enough electricity to run the heat pumps. This means that heating and cooling the building is carbon-neutral!

Thermal enclosure - Call it the envelope, shell, whatever...what matters is insulation, air-sealing, and minimization of thermal bridges. Here, we used cellulose insulation which is effective at reducing air-movement, is a recycled material, and takes very little energy to create. Our wall framing utilizes horizontal strapping to eliminate thermal bridges and create a thicker wall for more insulation. Air sealing is done with copious amounts of caulk and spray-foam...tedious but very important work.

High-performance windows - Very energy efficient fiberglass windows. High solar-gain on the south, low-e on the east and west. large panels (in the tower) are triple-glazed to minimize heat-loss and condensation on cold winter days.

Natural materials - Cedar siding, bamboo, stone, and ceramic tile floors, wood ceilings, stone vinyl here!

Natural surroundings - We sought to minimize our impact on the site - containing construction activities and staging to only the area surrounding the foundation excavation, minimal tree cutting, minimal turf-grass, native landscape vegetation, stone elements from site stone, and natural building materials and forms that harmonize with the surroundings. We did a good enough job that a beautiful red fox moved onto the property before the owner moved in!