Phase one in the Peter Rose + Partners-developed Master Plan connects a new, compact, 80-room residential dormitory to the existing retreat building at a center for yoga and health located in the Berkshire mountains.
Organized along tapering axis that both funnels breezes and captures landscape views, the building takes a deferential stance with respect to the landscape, through the calibrated placement of concrete, wood, and glass, with each material designed to express its natural characteristics. Concrete structure and cores remain exposed in juxtaposition to a slatted Cypress rain-screen, which will weather to a natural grey, letting the lakeside building recede into the wooded context. A glazed passage with a planted roof and southern exposure provides a warm, bright connection for winter yogis moving between the Housing Tower and the existing retreat building during cold weather, yet the passage itself remains invisible from the garden just to the north. A slight bend in plan telegraphic from corridor to façade, directs views toward either the lake or the hills, while editing adjacent buildings from view.
The Housing Tower packs its 80 rooms into an economically scaled plan and section, growing upward rather than outward. Through strategic placement of structure and micro-chases, comfortably scaled rooms are squeezed into a 98 inch floor to floor height. Radiant cooling and heating modulate temperature changes via the thermal mass of the concrete structure. When combined with natural ventilation, a slatted wood rain-screen, and a highly insulated envelope, the integrated architectural design and climate control strategy consumes less than half of the energy than a typical discrete forced-air based system. In fact, the efficiencies of a water-based radiant system allowed the contractor to temporarily heat the entire building with three domestic hot water heaters during the cold winter construction period, and workers said they had never been so comfortable on a job site.
Moderating between interior and exterior, the pressure equalized rain-screen includes a water membrane protected by Cypress slats. A moveable sun-screen of the same material slides in front of each guest-room window, and provides a visceral connection to the Berkshire context. Moving the screen by hand to modulate heat gain, guests see the shadows change, and feel the temperature of the wood, while the breeze stirs the room with the smell of Cypress. A text in each room explains the efficiencies and functioning of the building, and suggests where to position the screen when away to minimize energy consumption. Natural light reaches past the operable windows and through a glazed partition into shower and bathroom, brightening the entire space with no need for electric light during the day.
The building reflects a design practice that finds pleasure when using the properties of materials to respect and activate valuable qualities of the environment, both immediately and broadly considered. Painting this methodology across the design of eighty weekend monk’s cells, and thereby making a second home for those engaged with the world but on retreat, the Housing Tower reveals an environmental stewardship which is rooted in the sensually based, human scaled transformation of the landscape.