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WINDCATCHER HOUSE // 2010
Inspired by the wind,
shaped by the heart
The first home built by students from the University of Colorado Denver, this home was designed for single mother (the rule rather than exception on the Rez), Maxine and her son, Maurice, for their family's property within the Red Mesa chapter of the Navajo Reservation, nearly spitting distance to the Four Corners. Intended to achieve a balance, or more, a symbiosis with the surrounding environment, it was contemplated to protect the home from the harsh desert climate, while at the same time utilizing the beneficial attributes of the natural elements to maintain a comfortable microclimate within the proximal environs, through sleet, horizontal rain and snow, the sandblasting spring winds, single digit temperatures in winter and egg-frying asphalt aspects of the triple digit summer. This manifests itself in the focal point of the home, the central hearth, or self-described “windcatcher”, from which the home took its inevitable name. The hearth naturally acts as both the primary cooling and heating source for the home, employing passive evaporative cooling through a drip-line dampened blanket-like medium at the upper openings on all four sides within the tower, and the wood stove at its base. The cooling principle, extant in the public buildings at Zion National Park, to which the students made an educational pilgrimage to better understand the natural and highly effective low tech form of giant swamp cooler, was born of consultation with NREL (the National Renewable Energy Lab) in Golden, Colorado. Thermal mass was generated through course upon exacting course of stabilized compressed earth bricks (essentially adobe without the shredded straw binder) surrounding the stove.
Further thermal mass was provided by two different 24-inch thick rammed earth walls (the longer stretching east-west, and the other enclosing the kitchen north-south), two eight-foot tall masses sandwiching two inches of rigid insulation, doubled in service by protecting the home from the above-mentioned harsh winds and intense summer sun. One of the ubiquitous DBB concrete floors (a slab, of course, being by far the most effective floor budget-wise, not to mention its additional efficacy of thermal mass and capability (depending upon donation) for hot water radiant heating [from possible solar thermal panels] through looping pex tubes), too, soak up the Cheryl Crow’s soothing sun, the omnipotent numerator in passive solar (get it) design.
The home was challenged to address Maxine’s strong ties to her culture and family, and this desire is clearly reflected within its spatial program. A traditional half dome hogan, coated with a foot-thick hand-patted mixture of dampened earth (check), is mandatorily entered and exited to and from the east in order greet the beginning of the day, to pay the sun one’s humble respects (check), and then progression is mandated to be clockwise (check), and an oculus vents the smoke from an open fire at the center (windcatcher, check). The public volume opens up, connecting her with her family, while the entrance and private volume are oriented to the east, as mentioned. Water collection from the roof drains to a trough, fabricated from found materials, to slake the thirst of the many horses owned by the extended family. Maxine’s uncle ropes wild horses carousing everywhere on the Rez, whereupon he breaks them in order to sell. Controversial, maybe, but a clever, self-starter response to a vast sovereign nation that presents nearly 50% unemployment. We as students and instructors alike tend to, unintentionally, airbrush a template of our Anglo values and judgments upon this nearly lost culture, but Bravo! Hunters can be depicted as the best conservationists.
- Cooling Tower
- Compressed Earthen Brick
- Custom Doors and Windows
- Insulated Rammed Earth Wall
- Water Catchement
- 2011 AIA Colorado Young Architect Award for BUILT ARCHITECTURE
- 2011 AIA Colorado Young Architect Award for PEOPLE'S CHOICE