- Sustainable Architecture
- AIA 2018 COTE Top Ten Awards, Sawmill by Olson Kundig
The AIA COTE Top Ten Awards is the quintessential programme of sustainable design awards in the United States. One of the ten award-winners includes Sawmill by Seattle-based studio, Olson Kundig, a single-family home in a dramatic but extreme environmental context - the Mojave Desert in California.
The client brief was for a self-sufficient home that would maximise the connection between architecture and nature, and between family members inside. The concrete, steel and glass building was designed to withstand the harsh climate of the Tehachapi mountains, where fires are a major hazard in summer and winters are extremely cold.
The architects from Olson Kundig referenced the idea of tents around a campfire with three wings connected to the central hearth in the living room of this over 480-square metre house. Here, a 3.5x8 metre window retracts to turn the outdoor patio into the fourth "tent" around the fire. The desert is harsh but also fragile, and to minimise disturbance to this natural environment which had historically been used for mining and logging (hence the name sawmill), the designers sourced salvaged and recycled materials whenever possible. They also adopted solutions that would assure a net-zero home that operates completely off the grid.
The theme of water - from source to management - plays an essential role in the project. Based on a site-specific analysis, the architects decided to return rainwater to the ground rather than collect it for the home's sporadic, and selfish, use. This is one of the real strengths of Olson Kundig's Sawmill - paying attention to the whole desert ecosystem and not just applying superficial solutions.
To understand the project better and realise why it was a recipient of this award, we need to know that the residential sector in the U.S. continues to be the highest consumer of energy; today more Americans live in single-family homes than any other housing type. In 2016, 750,000 new single-family homes were constructed - more than double the number of multi-family units. This explains how creating a new model for the single-family home has the potential to dramatically shift the energy landscape in the U.S., demonstrating that fine design can also be high performance, and not just environmentally!
Project: Olson Kundig
Location: Mojave Desert, California, USA
Images: Kevin Scott
Find out more: https://www.aia.org/showcases/185631-sawmill