Sparano + Mooney Architecture - A villa in Salt Lake City embracing the Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy
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A villa in Salt Lake City embracing the Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy

Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Villa  /  Completed
Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Wabi-sabi is an ancient tenet of Japanese aesthetic culture, and a philosophy of beauty that embraces the imperfect, the incomplete and the transient. It espouses simplicity and honesty in expression, those modest things in our world that express beauty as they weather and age. In conceiving this house and while walking the site, the work began to coalesce around ideas of textures, materials, and expressed joinery and connections. Located in Emigration Canyon above Salt Lake City, this 4,000 SF home, designed for a young family, celebrates a unique elevated canyon view with a rare and direct connection to nature. The design was conceived as an expression of both static and dynamic elements, referencing the relationship among the mountain, the vegetation, and wildlife on the site. The entry is a perforated wall with segmented views of the site and surroundings. Upon entry, the occupant is presented with a long corridor offering a path lit by a skylight running the full length of the volume and illuminating a textural wall, and is also presented with a framed view of the mountains to the west. The home is separated into two volumes that float above the landscape. The north volume is oriented along a direct east-to-west axis and includes the private domestic functions to address the quiet static mountain views to the north. The southwest volume includes the more public, active gathering spaces and is oriented along the canyon axis toward dramatic views of the canyon and to the city below. The 18’-6” and 24” cantilevers are achieved using a series of steel wall trusses with forces directly tied to the concrete plinths that step the volumes with the landscape. The wall trusses are captured within a 12” thick thermally-broken wall system. The visitor and occupant are continually presented with a framed view of the mountain landscape, and this connection between interior and exterior spaces is further enhanced by the outdoor stone floor, which is brought through into the interiors. As one progresses through the space, the shift in program is presented with the public volume in line directly with the canyon view. The proposal included a basement level that incorporates a creative office space with a private outdoor patio and spa. The living-room fireplace is mirrored by an outdoor fireplace and both create areas for family and friends to gather. Indoor/outdoor relationships are enhanced through large openings onto the exterior concrete plinths that step with the natural topography. Careful placement of glazing allows for natural canyon breezes to flow through the home seasonally. The vegetated roof is planted with local grasses and serves to camouflage the home in its context. The residence sits within its mountain site with minimal disturbance to the landscape, which is augmented with native and drought-tolerant plants and trees. Materials were chosen to reference the site and crafted to express their constructed connections and detailing, and the selections embrace the more imperfect and graphic elements in these materials. The simplicity in material selections allows Wabi-Sabi to minimize construction waste through a simple established modular. The exterior is clad with full-height vertical cedar boards, sorted on-site and exhibiting a blackened stain finish. The overall height of the volumes was established based on the standard length of FSC-certified Western Red Cedar Select. The 14’ board height extends from the base of the exterior walls to the top of parapet vertically, requiring less cutting of the material and therefore less waste. The radiant-heating system is complemented by a large-format tile finish, which was established in a stack bond pattern that extends the full width of the corridors and patio. This approach maximized coverage and therefore minimized waste from the job site. This refined and considered approach to materials extends to the selection of interior elements, fixtures and furnishings. Indoor environmental quality was carefully studied utilizing both passive and active approaches. The exterior window system was designed to incorporate operable openings at key locations to take advantage of natural site ventilation, thereby reducing the need for mechanical heating/cooling and increasing indoor air quality. Low-VOC products were specified throughout the interior of the home per LEED for Homes certification requirements. The sustainable design goals of this home were centered around creating a form and approach that would have minimal impact on the native landscape while still providing opportunities for interaction with nature. A strict limit of disturbance was incorporated and the plinths that support the large cantilevers allow the mountain landscape to continue unhindered by the program that floats above. Designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, this home includes a double framed wall assembly with a ½” thermal break air space that achieves an R-45 using 3” of closed cell spray foam and 6 ½” of blown-in-blanket insulation. The roof assembly achieves an R-60 with 6” minimum depth of rigid insulation and 16” of cavity insulation. Strategically-placed minimal glazing with a .30 U-factor ensures a complete and high-performance exterior envelope. In addition to a high-performing efficient envelope assembly, passive strategies were analyzed and implemented in the design to minimize energy usage and further embed the client in the local climate. The predicted EUI for this project excluding onsite renewable energy contribution is 11.4 kBTUs/sf/yr to meet 70% target based on Architecture 2030 goals. The grading has been integrated with the site topography to encourage existing storm run-off to remain as unchanged as possible. Low-flow fixtures were used throughout the home with an anticipated 55% water reduction from baseline. Cost is withheld at the Owner's request.


 Salt Lake City
 United States of America
 372 mq
 Sparano + Mooney Architecture
 John Sparano, FAIA; Anne G. Mooney, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP; Nate King, AIA, NCARB; Seth Striefel; RA
 Living Home Construction
 McNeil Engineering; Structural Design Studio; Kappus Landscape/Sprinkler LLC
 Matt Winquist; Lucy Call


Sparano + Mooney Architecture is a leading, full-service architectural and design firm with offices in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. We are committed to offering sustainable, contemporary architecture to clients throughout the American West who care deeply about design.

The practice has grown steadily since its inception in 1997 through the process of rigorous critical thinking and the completion of a wide range of architectural solutions. Our carefully-crafted work catalyzes the idiosyncrasies of each project to create a concept-driven design in the pursuit of architecture true to its time, place and circumstances. The firm’s ethos is one of limitless exploration and an unwavering commitment to the heuristic process in creating architecture rooted firmly in meaning. With each project the practice examines new ways to harmonize a regulating concept with the existing conditions of a site, program and fundamental building functions.

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