Wabi Sabi House
Why Wabi Sabi?
While reading your design proposal, the idea of Wabi Sabi kept popping-up. Wabi Sabi is finding the
beauty in imperfection, in change, and in that which would seem not to belong. This is not to say that
therefore something should be made imperfectly, but rather that something should be allowed to be
what it wants to be. It is appreciating the way the copper skin of the building will change colors unevenly
as the house ages. It is appreciating the irregularity of the stones in a wall. It is welcoming materials to be
naked rather than covering them up with the sterilization of stucco.
Similarly, Wabi Sabi is open to the imperfection of bringing in that which would seem out of place. For
instance, Balinese art can mingle with American made furniture and Japanese sculpture. Mexican tile
can be a backsplash for a contemporary kitchen. Or rustic materials can welcome in high technology.
But more than anything, Wabi Sabi is finding beauty in simplicity and in the world. The house is not an
object in a blank plain, but rather just a small bump in a majestic landscape.
Other Japanese Influence
The idea of the courtyard is informed by two elements, first the Spanish courtyard house, but also the
also the Katzura Palace. The idea is that the exterior walls act as an insulator between the exterior and
the inner peace. Similarly, the house itself centers itself among a peaceful courtyard. The courtyard is an
extension of the house.
The very rich Japanese woodwork history was also a big influence. Places like Katzura or Himeji Castle
are beautiful showcases of woodwork and joinery. Their gorgeous trusses, beams and post still stand,
hundreds of years later, many times without the use of nails or other binding mechanisms. Although it
takes incredible craftsmen to attain such work, the house does try to give a humble nod in that direction
by exposing the structural woodwork.
The Tea-House is another element greatly influenced by Japanese architecture. Separated from the
house, the Tea-House is a space of calm and respite. It is a frame to the natural world that surrounds it.
Sense of Place
I am a firm believer that architecture should reflect a sense of place. It should have a feel of belonging to
its location. Your idea of using local stone is of course part of this. Similarly, the rest of the materials have
some connection to the region. The copper skin recalls the importance of mining in Colorado. While
wood finishes and structure allude to the forests of the Rockies.
The central piece to the courtyard is a sunken fireplace, an allusion to camping out in the mountains and
lighting a fire while staring at the stars.
Green roofs atop the Garage and the Tea-House welcome nature to resettle in the site.
The goal of this design is to meet Passive House standards, which I view as a much better sustainable
benchmark for residential scale projects than LEED. Their goal is to create incredibly efficient homes that are built to last. I want to thank you for being so proactive about offering some ideas for green design. I
tried to keep most of them and add some of my own.
Of course, solar panels, solar water heater, radiant slabs, grey water irrigation, rain collection and the
aquatron system are all part of the design. In addition, I strongly recommend looking into the following
products and ideas:
Tulikivi Fireplaces – Made with soapstone, these amazing fireplaces act as incredible space heaters
and are incredibly efficient.
Kirei Products – Kirei makes beautiful products out of bamboo, coconut, and other fast growing woody
materials. They are perfect for countertops and flooring, and very green.
Green Pool – You had mentioned you wanted to dig up a pond. That is basically what a green pool is;
unlike the typical pool, green pools use plants as filtration and cleanser rather than chemicals. Some
even add fish to eat any potential bugs. Being completely chemical-free allows it to spill over into the
creek without worry.
Rain Tank – I envision one or more large tanks buried under the courtyard. The goal is to capture all of
the rooftop rain water and store it within. Also, the use of permeable surfaces in the courtyard will help
recharge the water table; giving plants a greater chance of survival during droughts. Of course, the use
of local species is strongly encouraged. I placed a few Japanese Cherries as ornamental pieces, but
their use should be limited and in an area where they can be easily be taken care of.
HRV system – A principal component of the Passive House principle is the use of HRV systems for
ventilation. I think an Earth to Air heat exchange system, in which the air is ran underground to either chill
or warm up before reaching the house, would be ideal for your home. Of course, the house is designed
to allow for natural ventilation to be ideal, but for those months when it is too hot or too cold, this system
has proven to be great, without the need of the chemicals used in typical HVAC systems.
TCE Copper Cladding – There are many companies that due metal cladding, but TCE seems to be one
of the best when it comes to using recycled materials.
Eco-Cement – Designed by TecEco in Australia, this cement absorbs CO2 through its lifetime.
Adding insulation to Stone Walls and Slabs – Insulation is always added to walls and roofs, but not
often bellow the slab. This allows for cold to seep in. By adding a layer of insulation below the slab, and
also within the stone walls, the house can be much better insulated.
SIPs- Structural Insulated Panels are a great option for the non-stone walls. They are easy to install and
can cut down the building time.
Velux Skylights – Velux makes great remote controlled skylight which can be opened to allow
ventilation, and also have screens that can slide down with a push of a button, to minimize solar heat
I also, regardless if you chose this design or not, would strongly recommend getting in touch with
CleaResult. A good friend of mine, Juliann Major, is one of their consultants and I believe she would be a
great addition to your team. Not only is she a lovely person, she is trained as an architect (so she
understands the importance of design), is an avid outdoors person, she lives in Boulder and knows the
area very well, and is very well familiarized with different tax-breaks and other aspects about making
homes green in Boulder. I believe they mostly help retrofit old homes to be more sustainable, but without
a doubt they could be a great help.Best of luck during the selection process, and getting your new home built!
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