Amid the building and urban sprawl of California’s San Diego a one-family residence is experimenting with “sustainable architecture”. The governing principle is to combine rational design and proper application of technology with maximum efficiency of architectural layout. Planning strategies and technology are harnessed to achieve high living comfort, a cosy ensemble and an attractively modern home.
Kevin deFreitas’ project harbours resources and takes a broad approach to containing energy and environmental costs, minimizing the need for active consumption such as air conditioning. By rationalizing the various systems he has effectively cut out wastage. In a country of world-beating resource consumers, the idea of sustainable architecture means racking one’s brains to find devices that will make a certain lifestyle possible without forgoing what are by now considered essentials of our high standard of living. Parallel with this, one here has a “normal” dwelling built to sustainable criteria, achieved without dragging in radical political or social principles.
Designed as a home for six people, Casa Futura manages to keep consumption of electricity 60% lower, and water consumption 65% lower, than the Californian average for comparable accommodation. There is a marked note of minimalism about the architecture and the layout: low-cost “passive” techniques are applied, but there are also “active” strategies of energy-saving and natural resource exploitation via innovatory technology. The house is formed of two simple regular-shaped volumes linked by a bridge on the first floor. The main living quarters comprise one elongated two-storey rectangle 5.5 m deep and 26.5 m long, with a staircase in the middle and rooms leading off a corridor down one side.
The day-time area is on the ground floor: kitchen, large living room, bathroom, a communal space and a separate en suite guests’ bedroom. The floor above has three bedrooms and respective bathrooms. The accessory building is again on two storeys and a trapezoid plan. It contains the garage and a study area downstairs, while the first floor runs on as an extension of the main building.
Movement is built into these interlinked shapes by projecting overhangs. The façades are rendered or stone-clad; the elevations to south and west have a double shell. Passive ideas for sustainability draw on traditional building know-how - what Kevin deFreitas calls “new use of the old” - geared to cutting down on imported energy. The east-west orientation holds the key: windows on opposing walls allow a through-draught, the shallowness of the building lets natural sunlight in everywhere; careful allocation of windows to more or less exposed walls helps control glare and thermal oscillation. A pronounced eave overhang shields walls and windows.
“Actively” energy-saving innovative technology includes high-performance low-consumption lighting and domestic appliances; advanced automated systems of plumbing to minimize waste; solar panels generating electricity on the roof. The surrounding vegetation is thrifty on water, and the last word in sprinklers economize on garden water loss.
Cobblestones or granite chips allow rainwater to drain through and a synthetic lawn looks decorative whilst avoiding the need for fertilizer or pesticide. In terms of hard sustainability the project uses recycled or highly recyclable materials, from the inside wall and floor surfaces to the aluminium door and window frames, not to mention the wood and metal roof.