Specht Architects

Sundial House

Specht Architects
21. May 2018
Photo: Casey Dunn

The name of this house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an apt one, referring to the 125-foot-long skylight that casts shadows upon the adjacent board-formed concrete wall. The wall also serves to divide the parts of the house in plan: living spaces, bedrooms and porch on the skylight side; kitchen, garage and other utility spaces on the other side. Specht Architects answered a few questions about the Sundial House.

Project: Sundial House, 2016
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Client: Withheld
Architect: Specht Architects
Design Principal: Scott Specht
Project Manager: Mary Stuckert
Structural Engineer: David Grabiel / QPEC Inc.
Landscape Architect: James David
Lighting Designer: Specht Architects
Interior Designer: Norine Hayes
Contractor: Wolf Corp.
Site Area: 8 acres
Building Area: 3622 sf

Photo: Taggart Sorenson

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
We had done quite a few jobs for this client in the past, from their offices to other residences, so when they selected us, we already knew their unique tastes and the character of the place they ultimately wanted.

Photo: Taggart Sorenson

Please provide an overview of the project.
This ridge-top house in Santa Fe is organized around a pair of perpendicular concrete walls that orient the house toward specific views, provide thermal mass, and act as an element of continuity, linking interior and exterior spaces with the landscape beyond.

The entry procession flows through a recessed courtyard into a cool, shaded vestibule. An opening cut into one of the concrete walls then leads into the main body of the house, where panoramic views of the Sangre de Christos mountains are revealed. A narrow skylight runs the entire 125-foot length of one of the walls, casting changing shadows on the roughly board-formed concrete over the span of the day. Deeply cantilevered roof forms create portals around the perimeter. These shaded rest areas are oriented toward the most dramatic vistas. The house enhances a feeling of connection to the site – both physically and temporally — and provides a true sense of shelter.

Photo: Casey Dunn

What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
The New Mexico landscape provided the primary inspiration – long, horizontal forms of earthen materials merging with the site. The overall concept was also influenced by the path of the sun and the unique microclimate of this particular site. Formally, there are also references to Barragán, Wright and other architects who were influenced by the high desert.

Photo: Casey Dunn

How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
The house was designed to be low and "stealthy" and to become a part of the surrounding environment. It is organized around large concrete walls that orient the house, extend it into the landscape, and act as thermal mass elements. Natural light becomes a major element of the house, with shadows marking the passage of the day on featured walls. The architecture extends out from the perimeter of the house to created deeply shaded spaces for outdoor living. Materials are simple and reflect traditional local construction, but with a newer formal expression.

Photo: Taggart Sorenson

How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
Initially, the project was an oasis, like a courtyard surrounded by a set of individual pavilions, with guest structures and a garage. The desire to lessen the developed area of the site drove a series of redesigns that resulted in a stronger, tighter design.

Photo: Casey Dunn

Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
The building is very much influenced by site climate and energy/water use. The primary walls are solid concrete – a great thermal mass – and the skylights are oriented to allow absorption and blocking of solar gain to maximal effect. Deep portals, or porches, shade the perimeter glazing – a traditional technique that is as effective as ever at reducing direct heat gain. There is a large photovoltaic array that provides nearly all power for the house, and all lighting is LED. All rainwater is collected in large tanks for irrigation and non-potable use. Perimeter walls are insulated concrete form ICF construction, providing durability, fire resistance and thermal performance. The house is dug into the earth as well, creating recessed exterior courtyards and additionally moderating thermal performance.

Photo: Casey Dunn

What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?
The exterior closed cell foam roof system was unique to this climate and provided incredible performance. The thermal mass of the concrete walls works very well; they are warm at night and cool during the heat of day. All components were selected with climate, environmental performance in mind, and the coordination the these provides the greatest benefit.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Photo: Casey Dunn
Photo: Taggart Sorensen
Floor Plan (Drawing: Specht Architects)

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