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Ebnat-Kappel, Switzerland architectural firm designer year

Schwarz Architektur Dietrich Schwarz 2000

When it comes to Dietrich Schwarz's SolarHaus III, the Roman numeral tells a story. The house, which sits in a low-rise, low-density collection of single-family designs in the Swiss town of Ebnat-Kappel, looks simple. Its long wood and glass profile is attractively spare and rectilinear, and noticeably horizontal against the rising backdrop ofthe Alps. But the building's very simplicity also represents a substantial breakthrough for the architect when it comes to his approach to green design.

Schwarz's first SolarHaus was finished in 1996 in the nearby town of Domat/Ems. It now holds the architect's offices as well as a rental apartment for a young family. In that design, completed when Schwarz was just thirty-two years old, the architect useda host of cutting-edge, even experimental, green features. It was the first building, in fact, in which Schwarz employed Power Glass, a material of the architect's own invention that is attached to a structure's facade. It absorbs solar energy with an unusual level of efficiency while also allowing some translucency to help light the interior. SolarHaus II, meanwhile, was finished iniggg in Gelterkinden, near Basel. It is a bold, modernist building that looks a bit like a cube raised on stilts. If it appears perhaps abitless futuristic than its predecessor, it nonetheless stands out on its site as a visitor from some other place.

SolarHaus III is different. It is the simplest of the three projects but also a savvy, effective combination of new materials and age-old knowledge about making the most of a site. Its design suggests an architect who is comfortable enough with his talent to step back from bold gestures and concentrate on efficient, well-made architecture — not unlike a writer whose style grows sparer and less flashy as he becomes more confident and experienced.

"The first SolarHaus was like a Formula One race car," Schwarz says. "It had avery high budget, because we were trying out a lot of advanced

^ This low-lying and supremely efficient wood and glass design by Dietrich Schwarz is set against an idyllic landscape he knows well—theAlps — inthe small Swiss town of Ebnat-Kappel.

^ The main entrance is tucked away near the rear of the house, at the end of a gravel path, and thus doesn't interfere with the spare regularity of the wide southern facade.

techniques. It was a manifesto, in a way, to draw attention to the progress we were making with solar materials. But the house in Ebnat-Kappel is different: it's actually more efficient than the first one and at the same time was built for very little money."

Indeed, the house is something of a case study in modest efficiency, featuring the kind of sustainability that doesn't call any attention to itself. The single-story, two-bedroom, one-bath house measures only about 900 square feet. On the north, east, and west sides, it turns a timbered facade with very few windows to the outside world. Those paneled surfaces are filled with energy-efficient cellulose insulation made mostly from newspapers.

The southern facade, in contrast, is made up entirely of alternating bands of triple-insulated glass and Power Glass. The roof of the house slopes up from north to south, allowing the southern facade to catch as much winter sun as possible. For Schwarz, the profile created by the slope suggests what he calls "a revival" of the Modernist credo "form follows function" in the service of environmentalism.

In his first two solar houses, Schwarz says he was preoccupied with pursuing "a gain strategy": that is, using Power Glass and other materials to create as much electricity from the sun as possible. But in doing so, he admits, he lost sight of the "loss strategy": keeping a tight lid on the amount of energy lost in the cold Swiss winters. In EbnatKappel, he tried combining the two approaches, and the result is a zero-energy house—an airtight box that produces 100 percent of the electricity it needs for its operation. For Schwarz, the third time really has been the charm.

^ The roof of the house slopes up, allowing the southern facade to be as tall as possible. Glass panels alternate with bands of Power Glass, a material Schwarz invented, to catch and store the winter sun.

^ The Power Glass panels appear greenish-blue when seen from the inside.

North Elevation

Shmg'iiaii-Badalmg', China architectural firm designer year

Kengo Kuma & Associates Kengo Kuma 2002

Fifty-one-year-old Kengo Kuma, among the best-known Japanese architects of his generation, tends to use each of his residential commissions to explore a single building material. In a dense Tokyo neighborhood, for example, he designed the so-called Plastic House, in which nearly all the walls and floors (and even the screws) are made of a translucent, luminous plastic the color of green tea. Finished in 2002, it is a surprisingly beautiful piece of architecture— a meditation on the hidden aesthetic properties of a material rescued from the scrap heap ofthe design world.

In his design for a villa in a new development north of Beijing called the Commune by the Great Wall, Kuma used the same approach—and displayed the same knack for wringing beautiful forms from commonplace materials—in building a house that is as much an ode to bamboo as a house constructed from it. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable materials architects and builders have at their disposal, because it grows so quickly that its stocks can be replenished very efficiently. Commonly mistaken for a type of tree, bamboo is actually a grass, which helps explain the rate—among some varieties, several feet per day—at which it shoots upward.

The Commune by the Great Wall, planned by the ambitious Chinese husband-and-wife developers Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, features eleven private villas and a clubhouse, each designed by a leading Asian architect. Along with Kuma, the list includes Shigeru Ban from Japan, Gary Chang and Rocco Yim from Hong Kong, and several mainland Chinese architects. The development is located in the shadow of the Great Wall, about an hour's drive north of Beijing and only six miles from Badaling, the spot where most Western tourists visit the wall.

The developers hope to eventually sell the houses (or copies of them on a secondary site up the hill) to private owners. But at least in the first phase

^ Kengo Kuma's bamboo house north of Beijing includes an open-air tea house, which seems to float above a shallow reflecting pool. The space provides views of the surrounding hillside, on top of which the Great Wall itself stands.

^ Of bamboo, the architect says he finds "charm in the material's weakness."

of the development's existence, as a marketing vehicle, the villas are being rented out on a per-night basis to tourists and for corporate gatherings, forming the most exclusive—and probably among the most expensive—boutique hotel in Asia. The Great (Bamboo) Wall house, for example, rents for $1,088 per night—a fee that includes the services of a private butler.

Kuma's design for the house borrows its low horizonal profile from the Great Wall itself. But while the Wall symbolizes permanence, solidity, and exclusion, Kuma's bamboo wall is meant to suggest the easy transfer oflight and breezes from one side of the house to the other, as well as a certain lightweight, unfinished, and even fragile quality. Ofbamboo, Kuma says he finds "charm in the material's weakness."

The heart of the plan is a delicate tea house that floats on a square pool just outside the living room and is surrounded by what Kuma calls a "scaffold" of bamboo that offers privacy as well as views of a mountainside that is dense and green even in winter.

The house is also designed to mimic the way the Great Wall, as Kuma puts it, "runs almost endlessly along the undulating ridge line without being isolated from the surrounding environment." Kuma wanted to keep the house long and low rather than have it stand out as an object, with a single story at grade above a basement level. That shape helps the house look smaller than it is.

The design probably doesn't qualify as the most modest project in Kuma's portfolio. Indeed, the Commune development has already drawn fire from critics who take issue with the way it cheekily uses icons of Chinese communism (beginning, of course, with the word "commune" itself, and continuing with the Maoist uniforms—all black with a red star pin—worn by the staff) as branding and marketing tools as it tries to sell luxury housing to the country's growing ranks of entrepreneurs.

Those criticisms notwithstanding, Kuma has done much here to dramatize the design possibilities of bamboo, just as he did with plastic in the Tokyo

^ The house, with its long, horizontal profile, is designed to mimic the Great Wall, which runs along the ridgeline above.

7i Both inside and on exterior walkways, Kuma plays up the contrast between the polished marble flooring and the rough bamboo siding.

Dietrich Schwarz House Domat Ems
t Both the kitchen and the dining room have a bamboo-clad ceiling.

house. Who knew, after all, that bamboo could be sculptural, or cast such a variety of shadows, or add rhythm to a facade so effectively? If Kuma thus inspires other architects to trade mahogany or some other endangered hardwood for this most friendly of environmental materials—especially in China, where there is rising demand for American-style residential excess and no green design movement to speak of—his decision to accept the developers'

invitation to take part in this early stab at Chinese luxury housing will be fully justified.

Kuma has also shown how luxurious sustain-ability can appear if put in the right architectural hands. In the end, the house may wind up operating as a kind of architectural Trojan horse, helping to sneak green-design ideas behind the lines drawn by zealous developers.

Main Floor Plan

1 Entry

2 Kitchen

3 Dining room

4 Living room

5 Storage

6 Lounge

7 Bathroom

8 Guest room

9 Machineroom

10 Staff room

Ground Floor Plan

South Elevation

^ The tall windows of the living room provide expansive views of the lush hillside nearby.


Stuttgart, Germany architectural firm designer year

Werner Sobek Ingenieure Werner Sobek 2002

Werner Sobek's design philosophy is simple. "Architecture is environmental design. It therefore mirrors society, its behavior and ambitions," he says. The four-story residence Sobek designed for his family in 2002 is an elegant embodiment ofthat credo. The glass house is so efficient, it actually generates more energy than it uses. Its open-plan interiors and its high-tech features—touch-screen temperature controls, computer-controlled heating system, voice-activated doors, and radar-controlled faucets—say a lot about social behavior in a technologically advanced society. Its sleek, impeccable design projects an aesthetic ambition rarely seen in sustainable buildings. But Sobek did not set out to create a high-tech wonder: "I was governed by the ideal ofliving in three-dimensional transparency so that I could always feel close to nature. The technologyjust helped me achieve that ideal."

Sobek, who has a doctorate In structural engineering and is director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design at the University of Stuttgart, spent a year at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago in 1982 on the first Fazlur Khan fellowship, which has been awarded twice since. His architecture remains firmly rooted in the ideals of modernism, and his firm, Werner Sobek Ingenieure, which has 110 people working in Stuttgart and three others in New York, has consulted on such large-scale projects as the Bangkok International Airport and the Sony Center in Berlin. His futuristic R128—so named after its street address, number 128 Romerstrasse—isacompendium of Sobek's ideas and research about sustainability, energy conservation, and recycling. With its allusions to Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and Philip

^ Facing southwest on a steep hillside outside Stuttgart, Werner Sobek's R128 is an emmission-free house that requires no external energy input for heating or cooling.

Johnson's Glass House, it is clearly intended as the latest chapter in the history of transparent case study houses designed by modernist architects.

Perched on a steep hillside overlooking downtown Stuttgart, the crystal box of a house has a glass-skinned steel frame that was erected on site in a mere four days. The building reuses the cement foundation of the dilapidated 1923 house that once stood there. Designed to be installed and dismantled with minmal impact on the land, the modular structure arrived in just one truckload. Every part can be easily detached and recycled. The wooden floors, for example, are made of prefabricated panels that are suspended between the steel I-beams without screws or bolts. AH pipes and communication lines are concealed in shallow troughs behind removable laminated metal covers positioned along the floors. Since the house contains no plaster walls, almost nothing would have to go to waste if the structure were ever demolished.

The steel framework that holds the house together weighs only 10 tons. It consists of twelve pillars reinforced with a network of horizontal and diagonal I-beams. Additional cantilevered steel elements and external staircases and walkways complete the house. Visitors enter through a steel footbridge on the fourth floor, which contains the living and dining areas. Bedrooms for Sobek and his wife and for their son as well as additional living, office, and service areas are located on the lower floors. All floors are completely open and flexible, with the exception of a two-story unit that houses the toilets and bathrooms.

The house brings together some of the most up-to-date energy management technologies available to home builders today. "My goal was to build a house that would be perfectly green, more ecologically advanced than anything to date: that was the challenge I set for myself," says Sobek. "I didn't want to create something that future generations would have to cope with, so I made sure everything is easily recyclable." The coated and triple-glazed go-by-53-inch window


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