Few aspects of our project have received as intense scrutiny and discussion as the architectural design, detailing and construction. Three concepts guided the design: modularity and prefabrication; flexibility and openness; and material curiosity.
MODULARITY AND PREFABRICATION
One of our initial design decisions was to embrace the need to transport the house to Washington, D.C. This led to the concept of a modular design made up of four 8-foot wide house sections built into trailer beds. It also contributed to our decision to use a rather low roof slope, which, while reducing the efficiency of the PVs, gives the house a more elegant and horizontal appearance.
It was easily decided that the house sections would be each nearly self-sufficient and prefabricated. In order to tie the sections together, an intricate detail was developed that functions almost like a zipper around the house. Three-inch steel angles couple and bolt together every few inches. Those couplings are then matched with another coupling, creating a four-piece cruciform.
The cruciform detail separates the layers of wall and roof construction. The interior two angles support the insulated cavities of the wall and ceiling, while the outer two angles support the rain screen, PV panels and evacuated tubes. Cut in the other direction, the cruciform marks the transition from one trailer to the next. The detail is universal, working in both plan and section. It allows for the potential expansion of the home, by providing a consistent 'seam' that is easily unbolted and reassembled. Flexibility, and expansion is possible because each bay is self-supporting, containing enough PV and evacuated tube panels to support its own heating, cooling and electrical loads.
The bays are spanned by a 2-foot wide threshold that separates public and private sections of the house. On the exterior, this band serves as a rain gutter and electrical conduit for PV electricity collection; while on the interior, it houses the mechanical closet and central duct and is expressed by a distinct material palette.
FLEXIBILITY AND OPENNESS
While relying on trailers for the transport of our house, we wanted to move beyond the typically negative view of trailer homes. This was done not only by increasing the design aesthetic, but more importantly, we feel, by creating a much more open and inviting space. The main spatial flow of the house runs perpendicular to the orientation of the trailers, allowing us to achieve a more dynamic spatial sequencing.
On the south of the central threshold are the private spaces of the bathroom and bedroom. They are quite small, but still flooded with natural light from the clerestory and translucent east wall. North of the threshold is the public area. As an open plan, the kitchen, dining and living are continuous, lined with uniform cabinetry and occupied by modular, movable furniture.
A large south-facing glass wall with sliding doors separates this main living space from the outdoor deck, extending the perceived volume out to the evacuated tube screen on the south of the deck. Clerestory windows surround every space in the house, drawing one's view out into the open sky. These strategies allow ample light into the depths of the house, reducing energy needs while providing a bright, healthy environment.
At every step along the way, whenever a design decision was approached, the question was asked, "can we do this differently from how it has been done before?" The details and materials chosen for our house have been employed almost universally in new and interesting ways. Nearly all of the materials are in some way environmentally beneficial; either recycled, reclaimed or repurposed.
The furniture has all been designed and constructed by students, including the dining chairs (old, worn chairs wrapped with sweater fabric) and the rolling ottomans. They can function as small coffee tables normally, as seats when the tops are flipped over, or as a large chaise lounge when all six are locked together.
The rubber flooring is visually striking and surprisingly comfortable. The use of two patterns (nearly mirror images of each other) was an attractive choice that presents an interesting rhythm in the progression from interior to exterior.
The exterior rainscreen is of particular interest. By being separated from the primary house envelop by a couple inches, it provides shading and some protection from the weather, helping cool the house and prolonging the life of the materials. The screen itself is made with panels of reclaimed metal waste with a rainbow of colors. Folded and assembled by students, the rainscreen is a fascinating, and ultimately completely customizable, exterior finish.