2022 AIA CA DESIGN AWARDS
Architect: Aidlin Darling Design
Project Location: Napa, California
Photographer: Matthew Millman
Perched on ten acres in the hills overlooking Napa Valley, this rural homestead was designed for a family of three seeking a more peaceful life away from the city. After a wildfire decimated the site, the clients were determined to build a modern, resilient home. The home is defined by a triad of gable roof structures, embracing both the area’s agrarian vernacular and the father’s European roots.
“The form, details and materials are considered, meticulously detailed and very well executed.” – 2022 Design Awards Jury
Due to the home’s Napa Valley location, potential fire mitigation is an intrinsic aspect of the design that informed everything from material selection to form. The exterior palette is primarily composed of concrete and steel, which are inherently fire-resistant materials. Finely crafted, board-formed concrete make up the stout base and the majority of the walls, also creating robust stiffness for the home’s seismic integrity. The standing seam metal, gabled roofs shed rainwater and deflect potential sparks blown in from distant fires.
The Atlas fire in late 2017 ravaged the property along with hundreds of oak trees. This altered the approach to the landscaping, and led to the implementation of substantial fire mitigation and prevention strategies. Brush and trees have been thinned/ cleared, and native drought-tolerant plants utilized in restoring the property after the fire.
The design incorporates high efficiency plumbing fixtures throughout the home. All plantings are drought tolerant.
This house for two adults and one child sought to provide shared living space, bedrooms, as well as work/ play spaces for each occupant. By creating separate home offices for both adults, the design allows them to work from home. From the outset, the design intent aligned with the owner’s preferences to focus on the quality of spaces and materials, rather than on maximizing the square footage.
Operable fenestration allows the site winds from the east to passively cool the home. Zoned and localized radiant heating and cooling systems, along with high performance, thermally-broken windows and doors further enhance energy savings. The design gesture of the deep gabled roof that extends over the south-facing glazing and deck provides passive solar control and protects occupants from the summer sun. A retractable exterior awning on the west, along with operable exterior west-facing shades, serve to keep west-facing glass out of the sun.
The home’s rural hillside location presented an ideal opportunity to design a biophilic home that facilitates an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. The project’s terraced landscapes and shade canopy structures respond to the steeply sloping terrain, while protecting occupants from the harsh elements of the surrounding environment. The home’s massing creates a range of shaded spaces that allow occupants to gather and connect with nature throughout the day. Terraces offer moments to pause and appreciate panoramic views of Napa Valley to the west. Large sliding glass doors and numerous operable windows were designed to capture site breezes, and provide natural cross-ventilation.
Whenever possible materials were used that would be low maintenance and would not require re-painting or re-finishing, reducing the use of chemicals and thereby benefitting both the environment and the occupants. Where feasible, engineered wood structural elements were used in lieu of steel, to reduce the embodied carbon.
The building was designed not only with material resiliency in mind, with low to no-maintenance materials used at the exteriors, but also with seismic resiliency in mind. The main anchoring walls of board-formed concrete create robust stiffness for the seismic integrity of the residence. The landscaping strategy uses native and drought tolerant trees and plantings, ensuring that the root systems stabilizing the hillside remain healthy and intact even through times of drought. In the event of a natural disaster that leaves the area without power and resources, the home was designed with ample operable window and door fenestration, allowing the user to keep the home’s temperature modulated through passive means.
Fire mitigation is a central, intrinsic aspect of this home’s design that informed everything from material selection to form. It was a critical consideration due to the fact that the the same site was destroyed by a wildfire. The Napa Valley location means wildfires are a continued risk. The exterior palette is primarily composed of concrete and steel, both of which are inherently fire-resistant materials. Finely crafted, board-formed concrete makes up the building’s stout base and the majority of its walls. The standing seam metal, gabled roofs shed rainwater and deflect potential sparks blown in from distant fires.
The home includes a guest suite for the owner’s aging father, to allow three generations to cohabitate. Due to the 2017 fire, the owner has transformed the landscape to mitigate wildfire risk for the house and the neighboring properties. Additionally, the owner has started a side business with a partner, to help assess wildfire risks on private properties, and using environmentally-sensitive means of air-burning cleared trees and debris—this method is up to 90% cleaner that open burning, with opacities well under 10% (using EPA Method 9 Testing). This method has a significantly lower carbon footprint than off-hauling, or open burning.
Per previous responses, this pre-pandemic design constituted a significant change for the owners, in terms of shifting to a work-from-home lifestyle, with separate dedicated home offices. This proved to be beneficial during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Based on the client’s desire to work from home (pre-pandemic), to minimize vehicular travel and spend more time with their son, the design evolved during construction to change a gabled storage space above the garage into a home office and gym for the father. The 2017 fire mentioned above radically altered the approach to the landscape, both in terms of hundreds of shade-providing trees lost, and a strategy of moving forward with fewer trees to mitigate wildfire risk. Decks were changed from wood to non-flammable aluminum grating, and additional non-combustible shade structures were developed in lieu of new trees for shade in fire-prone areas.
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Sacramento, CA 95811
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