My first commission as a sole practitioner (in association with Kiel Moe) was to design a house for a beautiful piece of lakeside property in Michigan. The clients were determined that they wanted a house that connected to the place. In fact the first document in our design process together was a five-page email one of the owners sent describing his perception of the land as he walked about the property. Where each tree was, how the breeze felt, where to stand for the best view of the sunset. When I got that email, I knew they were serious. So before I ever drew a line or proposed an idea, I spent a lot of time at the place—they were staying in a 900-foot modular home at the time—walking it, finding out how they interacted with the site.
They wanted a house—actually, a cottage—that was sustainable in energy and material use. If you want sustainable design (and that′s sort of like saying, "if you want smart design"; who wouldn′t?) you have to start by understanding the site. A house engages every day, throughout the day, with the sun and the wind. If you want sustainable design (and that′s sort of like saying, if you want smart design; who wouldn′t?) you have to start by understanding the site.
The house we designed took that into account at every instance. As you′ll see when you watch this tour, the faÇade looks crazy—the windows are all over the place. But the idiosyncratic design is a reflection of the impact of the site on the house. We made some technologically advanced choices, such as using the ceiling and not the floor for heating and cooling (more on that on the tour), but mainly we just thought about where the sun would be at what point in the day, and where the clients would be, and we designed the floor plan and the faÇades accordingly. That′s sustainable design at its most basic—and its most satisfying. Take a look.