It is a dream gift to be able to design architecture fused in the immeasurable natural beauty seen on the California coast. This remarkable prospect is even more rewarding when the territory is Big Sur, that magical strip of land below the Monterey Basin holding sparse traces of human occupation and much celebrated in 20th century American literature. Legendary mid-century writer Henry Miller, among many others, made it the center of his inner world. It epitomizes wilderness, the manifestation of the sublime on earth. It inspires awe, commands undivided attention, instills devotion. Its grand presence is palpable and emotionally overwhelming. Inhabiting this environment is a unique occurrence calling for an equally unique architecture.
The vast plane of the Pacific Ocean and the ruggedness of the coastline set the stage for this gentle architectural insertion. Unobtrusive by design, it is both private from the main road and utterly transparent to what lies ahead. Many descriptors capture what holds together this composition: a trio of gliding Manta Rays, expressive cellular design, a parallel topography to the existing one, sail-like roofed pavilions, a village of transparent huts, the list goes on. The birth name of this design is Sea Song, a poetic heading to match our heartfelt poignant reaction to this arresting site. These pure shapes are biomorphic, evocative of sea shells, crustaceans, and other creatures of the water world, responsive to the rock formations and the existing ecosystem. Its environmental footprint is virtually null. They are soft on their footprint, being raised on a cantilevered podium, of minimum disturbance on the site.
Consistent with our commitment to environmental stewardship, Sea Song is an architectural creature breathing with its natural surroundings. This trio is designed to be self-sustaining, net zero energy, and aims at LEED Platinum certification. The full array of sustainable techniques is employed consolidating that the architecture is a natural extension of this site. Photovoltaics ease off-the-grid living. Self-cleaning glass, rainwater retention cistern, and xeriscape secure the sensible use of water sources. And the landscaping is intentionally kept non-formal, to reinforce the intent that Sea Song has always belonged to this site. Mecho-shades screen light passing through the wide expanses of glass, while the building cocoons itself against unwanted changes of the elements.
A curvilinear sensibility informs the shaping of the three pavilions. The geometry of the architecture remains fluid, unbroken, and in motion. Their arrangement on the ground and the delineation of each enclosure provide a continuum with no set boundaries between the inside and the outside. Internally, it is an immaterial enclosure with no corridors, all living spaces. The three structures are alike in mass and architectural elements, but scaled differently to adhere to the specific program requirements. Materials alone tell the story of the house. Concrete baths anchor forms to the earth where the programmatic part resides. All else floats in inebriating lightness. In each, the enclosed concrete split core holds service functions (bathrooms, walk-in closets, laundry), giving maximum open areas to the mostly column-free surrounding vistas, the determining experience for occupants and visitors throughout. Two bedrooms are clustered in the outer cell at the opposite end of the access road, whereas the master bedroom and a studio are located in the middle building. Point of arrival from the main thoroughfare is the bigger volume containing the public quarters, where guests can lounge in one uninterrupted flowing space.
Every chance to open the sightlines to the ocean was taken in these natural lyrical forms. In entering each pavilion at midpoint, a gap gives glimpses of the vastness that to expect beyond that threshold, anticipation and reward upon coming in. The interior surfaces exhibit warm natural materials and carefully positioned art pieces, yet are purposefully left plain to become background to its majestic outside.
The design will seek to achieve Zero Net Energy and water neutrality using passive techniques and high efficiency equipment to reduce demand and will incorporate the latest smart technology to generate electricity, heat and water.
The internal environment will perform to high standards, with controlled ventilation and temperature, a heat pump will help supplement heating and cooling energy harvested by the PVT panels. Daily thermal heat storage will hold heat generated by solar panels, and heat pump to heat the space and provide hot water. The same solar panels will be used to generate a modest amount of cooled water stored in a separate thermal cool store. Cooled water will provide cooling via the radiant floor and outside air ventilation.
The heat pump will generate cooling as a bi product of generating heat, the intention is to capture this cooling energy and use when it can help improve the internal conditions. The heat pump will not be used to generate cooling for immediate use. Excess heat/cool will be stored in the ground via a closed loop well, this will improve the performance of the heat pump using the heat well to boost the winter heating and the cool store to boost the summer cooling.
The photo voltaic will generate sufficient power to operate the buildings, daytime generation will be stored in recycled batteries to capture electricity for use during evenings.
It is estimated that the building will consume approximately 36 MBTU’s of combined heat and electric energy per year, an array of PVT panel sized at 1000 sf will produce 100% of the electrical and 50% of total heat demand, with daily and seasonal geothermal thermal storage providing the remaining 50%. With these systems the building can operate free of the grid, as a fully dependent island site.
Climate: The climate can get hot but mostly the buildings are being heated. Wind can occasionally be strong and natural ventilation noisy, so the project uses a hybrid ventilation powered by solar energy.
Views: It is most important to preserve the fantastic view, this drives a transparent west facing orientation. To help manage solar gain the design incorporates roof overhangs and high performing solar protective glazing. High angle sun from the south will be well shaded by the roof, lower angle west sun will be controlled by solar protective glass.
Green technology: PVT roof panels collect both solar electricity and thermal (hot water). An added benefit is the night sky radiation cooling which can top up chilled water to help drive the modest cooling demand. Recycled electric car batteries store solar power collected through the day to drive electrical equipment through the night. A heat pump generates heating and cooling simultaneously, the excess heat or cooling is stored in a short term daily store (insulated water tank).
Passive design: Ground slab labyrinth, outside air is drawn in via a labyrinth which warms or cools the outside air, tight facade to protect against high winds and minimize heat loss due to infiltration.
Water: Water is a scarce resource in California, most areas are experiencing severe drought, yet the region is still responsible for one of the highest usage rates, per capita, in the world.
An innovative way to generate a fresh water supply is to create a roof which can harvest dew from the humid air. This approach is successful in the natural world, as demonstrated by Namibian Fog Harvesting Beetle (Stenocara’s) . The surface of its armor-like shell is covered with bumps, the peak of each bump is smooth, like glass, and attracts water. The slopes of each bump, and the troughs in between, are covered with wax, which repels water, like Teflon. As morning fog sweeps across the desert floor, the water sticks to the peaks of Stenocara’s bumps, eventually forming droplets. When the droplets become large and heavy enough, they roll down from the top of the peaks and are channelled to a spot on the beetle’s back that leads straight to its mouth.
On foggy days a 1000 ft2 surface could capture up to 500 gallons per day. Other water reduction features include:
• Low flow fixtures, efficient piping and low run off hot water systems
• Recycled grey water and treated black water.
• Rain, fog and moisture capture
• Dual pipe systems
The buildings are designed to be net zero energy and could operate independent of the grid.
Passive design features include:
• High floor to ceiling glazing to provide daylight deep into the heart of the living spaces.
• Solar protective glazing and roof overhangs to protect against solar gain on hottest days.
• Ground slab labyrinth will pre-cool (or pre-heat) outside air drawn in to ventilate the building.
• Highly insulated roof, windows and walls.
• Natural ventilation via sliding doors and operable windows.
Solar powered ventilation will help keep internal conditions perfect when outside air temperatures and wind speed are not suited to natural ventilation.
Big Sur, CA
Private Client, San Francisco, CA
Renderings by Form4 Architecture / Downtown Energy; Modeling by Burohappold Engineering
F4 Team: John Marx
2017 Award Nominee, German Design Council
2016 Iconic Awards Winner, German Design Council
2016 Award Nominee, German Design Council
2016 Green Good Design Award, The European Centre and The Chicago Athenaeum
2016 Shortlist, Future Building/Drawing Board, LEAF Awards
2016 1st Place, Conceptual Architecture, International Design Awards
2015 1st Place Award, Residential Concept, Re-Thinking the Future Award
2015 Award of Merit, Custom House: On The Boards, PCBC Gold Nugget Awards
2015 Highly Commended, Future Projects/House Award, World Architecture Festival
2105 Shortlist, Future Residential Buildings Award, World Architecture News Awards
2016 The Korean Institute of Architects “100 Architects of the Year”