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By Jody McCutcheon
When individuals take the struggle for sustainability into their own hands, things get interesting.
Take Portugal’s Miramar House, located in the port town of Vila Nova de Gaia and designed by Portuguese firm e348 Arquitectura for a young family that brought very specific requests to the drafting table.
The family desired to cry out ‘honey, I’m home!’ in a house that could exploit the benefits of the Mediterranean sun and all its seasonal variations in order to optimise thermal comfort, energy efficiency and natural lighting. As the architects put it, the family sought “a closer relation between interior and exterior.” What sublime wording for a manifesto of sustainability.
The Miramar House exterior features an adjustable, L-shaped balcony constructed from slatted, foldable, pine shutters. In addition to extra living space, this design offers thermal regulation and solar protection. During the colder months the shutters close to insulate the 275m2 interior, while in the warmer months they remain open, offering ventilation and a nice view of a nearby park. They also close to offer shade from the strong summer sun, cooling the first-floor bedrooms especially.
The shutters are separated from the main building by a perforated wall that traps air for insulation purposes. The interior maximises sunlight with floor-to-ceiling windows adorning the three walls connected to the shuttered balcony; while inside, glossy black work surfaces reflect the sunlight deeper into the interior. Further utilising the sun’s generous bounty, solar panels have been installed on the roof to power a hot-water heater and complement the house’s energy supply.
Casa Cuatro, Chile
When you’re this close to nature, nature should always dictate design, and Casa Cuatro has taken this to heart. Apart from using natural materials such as locally sourced stone, this house is dedicated to passive energy strategies. Like what? A thermal mass wall provides insulation, while solar panels generate sustainable electricity; cross ventilation cools an interior featuring exposed wooden beams and dark hardwood floors. Architects Foster Bernal ensured whoever dwells in this amazing home isn’t just awed by spectacular views and visionary architecture, but is feeling comfortable at all times.
Images: Cristobal Palma and Foster Bernal
The Kavner Residence, California
This is a rare and wonderful example of one of the most eco-friendly building materials around: PISE. Standing for ‘pneumatically impacted stabilised earth’, PISE uses a dry mix of soil and ash. When sprayed onto a curtain form attached to a plywood frame, the mix hardened into a wall.
“It’s almost like doing a swimming pool,” construction boss Brian Groza says, adding that his company hired a swimming pool contractor to bring equipment out and do the job. Groza says he prefers the innovative technique because it lends itself to a more natural, sleek finished product. “This was a soil that had a lot of decomposed granite in it and not a high clay content, so it was quite suitable for that process. You end up with a great wall that has a warm brown look,” he says.
The availability of new materials and building concepts have impacted the construction industry tremendously, Groza says. “Incorporating all these new materials and systems into houses, it becomes a very complex set of construction documents,” he says. But Groza Construction makes it all look very easy indeed.
Images: Groza Construction
Owning a dwelling is a big thing; giving it green specs is huge. Kudos to the families who own these houses for providing the vision, and kudos to their architects for bringing those visions to life. One family’s dream come true is a small step toward sustainability. As more families take that step towards building eco friendly houses, our human family will surely find that deeper connection between interior and exterior.