Wuehrer House in East Hampton: natural light and minimal use of materials
Located on an expansive and secluded site, the Wuehrer house is surrounded by nature preserves. The house is accessed by a private gravel path and is nestled in a clearing within Stony Hill Forest. The site is gently sloped, covered almost exclusively with white oaks, a few eastern red cedars, and an occasional pitch pine.
To celebrate this serene location, the design of the house attempts to mutes architectural metaphors and conceives of a contemplative structure that is simple, rational, and generously open to the surrounding landscape.
Made from a unique, repetitive module, itself reduced to its outer frame, the house highlights the tactile qualities of the carefully curated palette of materials: unadorned wood, glass, and concrete. With its simple geometry and minimal use of materials, natural light becomes the prominent element defining the space, celebrating the ever-changing seasons and the remarkable wooded vistas.
The project represents a successful integration of a glass façade with the primary structure of the building. The choice of the primary building material, timber, offers a robust skeleton of the main force-resisting system, for gravity and for wind forces. This same skeleton serves simultaneously as the mullion system for the glass walls.
The objective was a reduction of material visibility which led to merging the posts carrying the roof with the mullions supporting the glass walls. The development of the project, involving a passionate structural engineer and ambitious fabricators early in the process, led to merging the structural frame with the glass envelope, breaking through the long-existing barrier between contractors for the main structure and glazing contractors. An innovative Canadian manufacturer was one of the few companies able to elegantly combine the mullions with the structural columns. And within six days, the entire skeleton of Southern Yellow Pine glulam beams and columns (or glazing mullions) was assembled on site. By experimenting and pushing the boundaries of an existing façade system into a full building structure, the project morphed into an off-site fabricated prototype with an innovative façade design.
Several Environmental Performance goals and Sustainability ideas converge in this project. The glazing system used is Passivhaus certified, from the German manufacturer RAICO. The use of wood for the mullions – instead of steel or aluminum - improves the thermal efficiency of the façade by limiting heat losses through the frame itself. Furthermore, the use of a unique façade and roof system creates a continuously sealed envelope, fully gasketed, with very limited air leakage. When cooling or heating is in use, fresh air is therefore supplemented by a whole house ERV ventilation system commonly found in passive houses.
To reduce the house’s ongoing energy consumption, the architect incorporated strategies such as radiant heating powered by a highly efficient condensing boiler, and automated, thermally modified wood blinds on the exterior of the west façade. These kinetic blinds have dual functions: provide privacy for the living and dining area and bedrooms, and reduce solar heat gain during the afternoon, when the sun is strongest. Natural air ventilation in every room and cross-ventilation between opposite facades keeps the need for air conditioning to a minimum.
And while reducing CO2 emissions for heating and cooling systems become a practical reality, minimizing ‘embodied’ CO2 emissions caused by manufacturing and fabrication of material - by getting rid of redundant or unnecessary components - was achieved with a mindful consideration of timber as a “good” material, including the desire to choose species of wood from trees that grow in the proximity of the manufacturer and minimize energy consumption from transportation.
Doris & Konrad Wuehrer
Jerome Engelking, AIA
Jerome Engelking has been practicing architecture for more than 20 years, focusing on high-end residential, cultural, and institutional work internationally. He is a Registered Architect in the state of New York and a member of the American Institute of Architects.
Born in Paris, Jerome grew up in a family of engineers, between Belgium and the South of France. Jerome obtained a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the Bordeaux Architecture School in 1999, under the mentorship of the late architect Jacques Hondelatte. Since then, Jerome worked in various design firms in France and the United States, notably with Richard Meier & Partners Architects and Diller Scofidio +Renfro in New York City.