Site: Town and Country, MO, United States
Status: Schematic Design
Client: Metropolitan Development Group
Amonte House investigates sustainable design from a passive set of systems through the design of a classically inspired modernist glass box. Yet through the design of interior courtyards, thermal masses for passive heating, and manual operating systems that allow the regulation of ventilation through the double glass walls and the manipulation of thin brise-soleils on the building’s skin, the design addresses the problems associated with the modernist typology and current limitations of sustainability.
Glass houses hold the promise of dematerializing boundaries from within to become part of their environment. In this reinterpretation of the glass house, the surface plays between visibility and the shadow. White blades encase a double-layered glass facade. Within the glass system, the energy challenges associated with its transparency balance out with the desire for crystal translucency.
The white fur of the polar bear can be compared to the water droplets of a cloud: individually transparent, yet white as a collective. Each individual hair is a diaphanous tube once believed to transmit heat to the black skin through a form of fiber optics. Polar bears kept in captivity in warm conditions develop green fur as algea begins to grow within these hollow transparent tubes.
The skin of the glass house acts as a trombe wall with a circulating vertical plenum that balances and distributes naturally modified air temperatures.
1 TROMBE WALL
The white ceramic blade extrusions collectively make a thermal mass. In the winter months, the sun contributes to the heat gain on the interior blades. In the summer months, the external blade system provides shading from direct heat gain.
Exhaust vents at the top of the wall release heat gain in the summer. High and low interior vents circulate air in passive heating and cooling cycles.
3 EARTH COOLING TUBES
Intake air cools through a tube traveling in the earth to distribution points.
4 FORCED AIR DISTRIBUTION
Air from earth cooling tubes may be circulated in the double-glazed system (with vents closed) to distribute heat gain between south and north facades.
The gardens are landscape screens that separate program elements within an otherwise transparent house. Along with the glass and blade facade, these screens help control light in section between two levels. One garden pocket is anchored by the chimney and entry stair. The other by the private stair and water program elements of kitchen and bath.
Amonte House is an alternative to the large mansions of Town & Country, Missouri. The house rests on a narrow steep site along the edge of a single-family house subdivision. On approach, the house profile reads low from the grade of the street; disguising its scale upon entry. The full profile of the house is experienced after approaching it obliquely. The house then opens onto the formal front yard of the neighboring houses. The narrow steep site is divided into a series of platforms and slopes; providing the house’s directionality along the narrow edge. At an inflection of tree growth on the site, the house expands horizontally. This extension comprised of the swimming platform provides an automobile entry to the house while acting as a landscape element itself to be experienced from below. The program of the house is intended to accommodate the flexibility of its nuclear family while several spaces allow for a simultaneity of programs. Finally, the large garage carriage-house tucks under the platform of the house while the cars remain outside.
The landscape surrounding the house is remarkable for its tall, wooded enclosure. The house’s translucent façade and the horizontality of the white blades register the materiality of the site’s contours, its landscape, and its vertical shadows. As a two system façade, the transparency and sectional profile of the glass changes throughout the façade of the house according to program, solar orientation, and site considerations. The enclosure, in short, acts as an environmental control of the interior space. Window openings framed within the blade system offset the recessed unfolding entry at the pool/kitchen which emerges from a more solid wall skirting along the side entry from the street.
Touching the ground like a ship’s hull, the geometry of the overlapping double-cavity forms contains enough depth for the pool. The two “bellies” give structural rigidity to the large pool cantilever and form a dialogue with the sloping elements on site. The belly construction system includes CNC bent steel reinforcement and CNC milled foam molds supported by an egg crate formwork. The slip cast sections produce a thin concrete shell form. The large cantilever is calculated with the consideration of the weight distribution of water as well as the adjoining interior belly. The arch-like properties between these two cast sections define the space below in relation to the house’s landscape while strengthening the platform. Sitting on this two leg platform, the house projects out from the mass of the landscape and reconnects to the exterior through two gardens that lock into its interior space.