Super Hot: GeoThermal House

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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Haven’t your ever wished your humble abode could be something more like what you’ve read about in fairy tales: something tucked deep away in the forest, using sunshine for light, trees for a ceiling and at completely one with nature? This was the vision of Maryann Thompson, who founded her eponymous architecture firm in 2000.


Specialising in sustainability, believing  that “great art, including architecture, should resonate emotionally,” is the firm’s motto, and this is clearly expressed in their famous GeoThermal House, which is rooted in the utopian modernist tradition of blending the ambiguity between interior and exterior space.

In the primary living spaces, for example, the horizontal planes of the floor and roof surfaces extend beyond large openings of glass. The interior designs are characterised by multiple planes of light entering the house at a variety of levels: while the roof and floor planes hold the primary data, the subtle articulations in the walls and windows have an intimate relationship with the landscape and the path of the sun. The manipulation of partitions, openings and spaces provides a rich tapestry of changing perspectives as one passes through the house.


This kind of architecture engages people through heightening an awareness of the physical and temporal qualities of our surrounding landscapes and environment: the house is designed to tread lightly on the environment and is consequently arranged to take advantage of the daily path of the sun. Hence, architectural positioning is a crucial aspect of building that is tackled by Maryann Thompson Architects, which heightens the awareness of the presence of nature and the immediate area, whether visceral or temporal.


To do this, they use light and shadow, rain, wind, and the relationship to the ground plane to enhance the experience of the phenomena of the site and the temporal events offered by a particular place. This application can be clearly seen in the GeoThermal House, which has the kitchen facing east, while the living room and its terrace face west to take advantage of the setting sun. All rooms receive light on two sides. The combined living room, dining room, kitchen area receives light on four sides through the use of a clearstory, enabling the sun to always be an ever-changing presence in the main body of the house.


And of course, as you probably guessed from the name of the house, a geothermal system supplies heat and cooling for the entire structure. This works more or less like a traditional heat pump, except that the energy is taken from the ground, and is 60% more energy efficient than a traditional pump.  However, by making the north facing walls insular, thus capturing warmth and guarding against gold, allowing south facing walls to let in sunshine, and by having deep overhangs that control heat loss and gain, it’s unlikely the geothermal feature of the house will be much needed.


The use of natural materials and passive heating and cooling mean that GeoThermal House is practically a living organism. What could more ‘resonate emotionally’ with a homeowner than that?

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Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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