The Box House is a 2,200 square foot post and beam structure constructed on a 5,000 square foot lot. Many of the project's challenges and defining design decisions were associated with its steep topography beginning with 10 foot cliff at the street. The home is pushed uphill and the first floor level is positioned 40 feet above the driveway allowing the home to maintain a 20 foot front yard setback, privacy from neighbors and to take advantage of panoramic views of the hills. Three flights of stairs leading from the garage to the house contributes to an active healthy California lifestyle. Additionally the physical and mental distance from the street adds a positive psychological quality of peace and heightened awareness of nature.
Many ambitious design decisions also arose from the challenging zoning requirements for hillside houses; the garage was designed as a separate planted roof building to allow the house to have an independent height calculation. Building separation was maintained by calculating it vertically and burying a subterranean garage beneath as much as 14 feet of backfilled earth allowing the cantilevered box to float above independently and meet code. The house orientation on the site aligns to the slope and the backyard toe of slope setback points the retaining wall diagonally uphill to reduce wall height and concrete.
Materials for the project include recycled denim insulation, bamboo flooring and cabinetry, wood veneer formaldehyde-free plywood, farmed teak siding, water based low VOC coatings on all surfaces, and Douglas Fir glulam beams, walls, ceiling and posts. The beams and posts were built up using two small girders sandwiching a shallow middle beam. This allowed the crew to raise them individually without a crane. Insulated low-e glass folding slider doors face north-west allowing in fresh-air while the south-west 1” insulated windows have automated shades to assist the low-e coating in mediating heat-gain and glare.
Our broad objective for the project is to set a higher standard for building in the hills. When we call our work “ecologically intelligent”, we do not see our role as one of mitigating negative impact, but as bringing about positive change. Buildings and their sites need not be an environmental evil, they are, when done right, environmental enhancements.