Inspired by the name of the trees that surround the area, the Sycamore House in Pacific Palisades, California is not actually a family home, but a laboratory for a firm that does research and seeks environmental solutions, with a focus on sustainable architecture. The Sycamore House is wonderfully integrated into the landscape, borrowing some of the trees’ shininess. The house “takes its name from three beautiful trees on the site that originally attracted Kovac to the property; the simple geometry of the house is driven by the steeply descending site.” The project has been designed by Kovac Architects and it has been completely built with ecological materials, reflecting the firm’s values.
The 3,400 square-foot house is a wonderful and inspirational place, with an abundance of sculpted volumes. To prove the house’s sustainable core, a series of sustainable materials have been used, such as “high fly ash content concrete, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified woods, reclaimed wood flooring, non-VOC paints, recycled glass tile in the bathrooms, formaldehyde-free plywood for the sheathing, energy star appliances, and water-efficient fixtures.” The view over the lush collection of Sycamore trees is stunning and as a general rule, everything inside the house looks glossy and modern. Who said that sustainable materials can’t provide a contemporary look and a really cozy environment?
Energy during the construction process was saved by using FSC-certified glulam timber instead of steel to create the building’s distinctive wavy roof, while the store’s external walls use hemclad, a highly innovative insulator made from hemp, which, like all plants, absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows. An 80,000 litre water tank below ground provides water for the store’s toilets and waters the site’s green wall’, which provides natural insulation, acts as an all-natural pollution filter near the car park, and helps to encourage biodiversity. The result is a building that uses a fraction of the energy of structures of a similar size, and is still very popular with local shoppers.
What is new and exciting now can quickly begin to look tired and out of fashion, so the best buildings don’t just consider what will be interesting to look at now, but also how it might look to people in five, fifty or even a hundred years’ time. 2013’s hotly contested RIBA Stirling Prize went to Witherford Watson Mann Architects for their work on Astley Castle, Warwickshire. In what RIBA Past President Stephen Hodder has described as an extreme retrofit, the project essentially saw a new building inserted subtly into the heart of the old, with a new, two storey residence now hidden within the sandstone walls of the ruins of this medieval castle, to be used as a holiday home for up to eight guests