The house amplifies two complementary aspects of the landscape that are experienced at very different scales: the vastness of a mountain valley and the intimacy and tactility of a river gorge. The dramatic site is oriented up canyon toward a southern view of mountain peaks and down canyon to cascading mountain ridges and the river valley below. To the east and west, canyon walls create a tapestry of trees and rock formations that descend to the creek bed with the sound of moving water. The clients requested a home responsive to this unique setting and appropriate for their daily routines, while also being capable of hosting large gatherings.
The previously deforested site had been graded to create a small, marginal ranch that was susceptible to erosion along the riverbed. To create the site for the new house, the land was re-graded to restore much of the original topography and reforested with native trees and grasses. The house was carefully positioned to reduce its visual impact on the landscape and to create a strong relationship with the more intimate aspects of the site.
On approach, the house gradually appears as a low, weathered steel surface that echoes the deep red colors of the local limestone geology. Moving through the discrete one story entry wall, one ascends several feet to the upper level of the house, which opens to dramatic views of the canyon wall and its variegated natural foliage. The articulated white ceiling plane of laminated wood beams and acoustical plaster is tilted upward 8 degrees toward the east. Arriving at the center of the main level, the visitor is reoriented to dramatic north and south views by a field of abstract planar elements that include weathered steel structural shear walls, sliding glass doors, drapery, and wood paneling. Triple glazed glass walls open the house to 180-degree views of the landscape. Sliding glass doors open the interior to sounds of the river below. A serrated exterior deck wraps the living spaces to define a variety of outdoor gathering spaces. On the lower level, bedrooms and recreational spaces focus on intimate views of the river gorge.
The Steel House uses new digital design and fabrication technologies to achieve a high level of “21st century craft”, resulting in a level of precision that contrasts with the rugged and changing landscape. Large taut and abstract walls of weathered steel and glass contrast with interior spaces of the house defined by finely lined surfaces.
Technology: The house uses new digital design and fabrication technologies to achieve a high level of “21st century craft”, resulting in a level of precision that contrasts with the rugged and changing landscape. Large taut and abstract walls of weathered steel and glass contrast with interior spaces of the house defined by finely lined surfaces.
Integrated Systems: The articulated laminated wood roof structure was designed to carry significant snow loads while enabling a spatially open interior plan and a pavilion-like exterior envelope. Three parallel spans are oriented north to south on longitudinally arrayed bearing walls made up of delicate stainless steel columns spaced just under six feet apart. The columns also support the glazing, sliding doors, and window shading systems on the longitudinal walls. Butt joint glazing is used on the north and south windows. Digitally designed and fabricated transfer beams are integrated within the rafter depth as needed to give the ceiling surface continuity throughout the main level. Precision-engineered splice connections further unify the rafter system.
Acoustical plaster was introduced between the rafters to create a topographical surface that articulates the structure, defines activity zones, and organizes the lighting and sprinkler systems. The distributed illumination strategy in the ceiling was made possible through the use of LED fixtures located between the rafters. Natural ventilation and the HVAC system were also discretely integrated. The shear walls extend up to the roof to become natural stack-effect ventilation devices that, in combination with the solar voltaic field, make up the ”fifth elevation” of the house when viewed from the surrounding canyon walls.
Digital Design and Fabrication:
New digital design and fabrication technologies were used throughout the design and construction process to achieve a high level of resolution. At the initiation of the design process, the use of 3D modeling integrated with GIS allowed a detailed site analysis that synchronized the design’s day-lighting and climatic response with the experience of the house and mountain landscape.
During construction, a BIM coordination model facilitated the testing and integration of different material systems with analysis of construction sequencing. The BIM model was also used to detail and fabricate the steel and wood structure, the weathering steel skin, and the glazing systems. It was also used to coordinate the utility infrastructure allowing an unusually tight and seamless integration between systems. At the detail level, the architects used digital tools to design and fabricate custom details, including integrated railings, grilles, cabinet hardware, door handles, and a large custom LED chandelier.
Principals: Vincent James FAIA, Jennifer Yoos FAIA, Nathan Knutson AIA
Awards: American Institute of Architects Firm Award; VJAA (2012); American Institute of Architects Honor Awards; SJA Chapterhouse and Chapel (2013); Chicago Apartment (2013), AUB Student Center (2009), Tulane University Center (2009), Dayton House (2002), Type/Variant House (1998); Progressive Architecture Awards; AUB Student Center (2006), UC Gatehouse (2006); Longitudinal House(s) (2002), Cable Museum (2001), Tulane University Center (2000), Rowing Club (1999)
Architect magazine National ranking; VJAA 1st for Design Recognition (2010); American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award for Architecture (2001); Emerging Voices, Architectural League of New York (1998)
Recent Exhibitions: VJAA Office and Hostler Center, Beirut; Venice Biennale, US Pavilion (2014), Surreptitious Urbanisms; MIT (2014)
Monograph: VJAA, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, (2006).