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Sunday, 05 May 2013 19:36

The Sarmir House (1979)

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The Sarmir house was designed in 1979 for a speculative developer, to be built near Occidental, North of San Francisco in Northern California and close to (and with a view of) the Sonoma Coast. It was intended to be on-sold as an energy-efficient home, at a time when the 1970's oil shock had convinced many Americans of the sense in sustainable building techniques. Following the oil-price spike in 1973 (caused by an OPEC oil embargo in response to American arms support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war) President Jimmy Carter established a programme of support for alternative energy research. Non-profit research facilities like the Farallones Institute in Point Rayes (initiated by my colleague at UC Berkeley, Sim Van Der Ryn and Peter Calthorpe. This stimulated a great deal of research and development into solar power, wind power and hydro power and alternative building technologies The effects of this programme lasted into the 1980s but was curtailed by Ronald Reagan and his friends in the oil industry. As a result thirty years of sustainable energy development have been lost and the world now teeters on the brink of environmental catastrophe. This house came as a direct result of the awareness generated by that research. The first fundamental "pattern" of the hosue development was in orienting it optimally to take advantage of the heat of the sun. It is a "passive solar" house - intended to use the sun as a primary source of soace heating.
Solar Orientation
The house is an "L" shape in plan, with one of the two wings facing due sun-South. This wing includes an integral greenhouse or conservatory on the south wall (outlined in red on the plan). The greenhouse has double-glazed roof and south wall to allow maximum heat-gain. This heat is then stored in the masonry internal; walls and pumped to a rock-storage bin beneath the floor, from where it is redistributed throughout the house as the outside temperature falls.
The Living/Dining areas occupy the space where the two wings intersect and open onto an outdoor deck with an ornamental evaporative (and reflective) pool that enhances winter heating (by reflection) and summer cooling (by evaporation).The second wing is occupied by two bedrooms, each with clearestory windows to allow low western sun in winter.
Ground Floor Plan showing South Facing Conservatory
The house takes advantage of the natural slope of the site, allowing the spaces furthest from the sun to be "stepped" up to provide clerestory windows for heat, light and ventilation. Behind the conservatory is a two-storey kitchen with a gallery running along it. The gallery floor cartries the heat distribution duct and the height of the kitchen allows for good secondary-heating in winter and good ventilation in summer.
Cross section through the Conservatory and Kitchen (Winter heating)
Bedrooms: Summer Cooling
The first floor is taken up by the master bedroom and en suite with extensive views out to the South-West toward the coast. The ensuite bathroom has a cantilevered bath/shower that is glazed throughout, offering intimate  natural views of the forested site while maintining complete privacy.
First Floor Plan 
As with the Conservatory wing, the northernmost bedroom wing has an elevated space on its northern edge - again with clerestory windows to allow optimal winter solar gain and summer cooling. In summertime. the deck area operates as a sun-trap, dramatically increasing air temperature, this hot air rises, creating a low pressure zone that draws in cool air from the adjacent forest through the building's cross-ventilation system  to cool the interior. In addition. the ornamental pool and fountain provide a significant evaporative cooling function, absorbing large quantities of heat from the surrounding air as their water changes from liquid to gas. The overhangs are carefully designed to exclude all summer solar gain.
 East elevation showing cantilevered bathroom
North elevation showing sparcity of windows
Bird's Eye View from the South-East.
The house was never built, but concepts developed in its design influenced a number of subsequent projects.


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