Case Study: Wine Country Residence
"I envisioned a green or sustainably built home, that was very modern and simple blended in with this beautiful Sonoma site,” says Diana Sanson, who chose the unusual technique of rammed-earth walls for her efficient, contemporary home. “Yet, another part of the vision was to have as much glass as possible, while still maintaining the R-value required by the California’s Title 24 that you have to pass.”
Having done her homework – alone and with the technical support of Mike Baushke, founding partner of Apparatus Architecture in San Francisco and a specialist in rammed earth – Sanson chose NanaWall for the innovative home. The concept was to wrap a prominent corner of the house in opening glass walls, and to commune with nature whether the glass wall is closed or completely open.
“NanaWalls are beautifully engineered and insulated, but they are still glass,” says Sanson. She envisaged the room with the glass in a multipanel system, treated for UV and temperature control as well as a low-emissivity coating. The open corner was critical to the design concept.
"The NanaWall operable glass walls fit flawlessly as corner units, welcoming the natural aura of the outdoors."
Designing With Open Corners
NanaWall could deliver on the rigorous specs – and the open corners. So the designer and homeowner drew plans for six NanaWall openings totaling 32 panels, using the NanaWall SL45 aluminum-framed folding systems. With their thermal break and insulated frames, the units would help improve efficiency even in spite of the tremendous glass area.
“We aimed to create an open-air atmosphere connected to the mesmerizing landscape,” says Sanson. “The NanaWall operable glass walls fit flawlessly as corner units, welcoming the natural aura of the outdoors and complementing the clay-like, sedimentary look of our rammed-earth home.”
Located in Glen Ellen, California, the residential project consists of a two-bedroom main house that sleeps four, and a guest house that sleeps four more. Though it’s a small family, entertaining family and friends is a frequent interest. In the future, Sanson’s husband may move his office permanently into one of the structures.
Unique Rammed Earth Design
The use of rammed earth was atypical but not unheard of, as it is more common in the southwest. (“It’s not a forgiving building technology, and definitely not a building method for everybody,” says Sanson.) But it’s a specialty for the firm Apparatus, which advocates its use: Baushke’s expertise includes PISE and wood-framed structures in addition to rammed earth, “emphasizing the relationship of the built environment with the natural,” according to the architects.
For people who have that particular interest in rammed earth, the family says that it “performs as marketed, and typically is pretty long-lasting.”
It also added the right aesthetics. “I didn’t want the house to stand out, because the site is very pretty,” says Sanson. “Our design was that it would just disappear into the site, and in fact it does merge into the side of a hill.” While the homeowners considered a living roof with native plantings, they opted instead for standing-seam metal, which allows for a water catchment system to harvest rainwater, which is then funneled out to cisterns.
The homeowners also are pleased with their choice of tubular daylighting devices for the rooms without windows. “If you want to be sustainable, they do bring lighting into dark areas,” they explain. “It’s great to walk into a room with no windows and have light in there.”
“The house is great, and it worked out just as planned,” Sanson glows. “It’s a delight to be in.”