Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Family Affair

Juliet and Jack Menzel created a modern home in the heart of Silicon Valley using age old techniques.

Designed by and for a young professional couple, this infill project is located in old Mountain View, California. The project quickly evolved as the couple became disillusion by both the price point and quality of the existing housing stock in Silicon Valley and decided to design and build their first home. Juliet, a recent graduate from MIT, had just finished her first year in the Master of Architecture program. She was eager to translate design theories into a constructed reality, while Jack, a director of Search at Google, desired modern simplicity and functionality that resonated with Google’s core design principle. Together with Jack’s step father, David Easton of Rammed Earth Works, many of the design decisions were hashed out and subsequently revised during family meal times.   

The project was designed as a series of graduating volumes in response to the neighborhood, which consists of many turn of the century cottages. As a result, the two-story portion of the house is located to the back of the property to minimize its overall appearance when viewed from the quiet residential street. Suspended between two rammed earth volumes, the main living space features large sliding glass doors that open onto an expansive outdoor area while being protected by a row of existing cypress trees. Influenced by the Eichler homes in the region, the clerestory window in the living space encourages cross-ventilation. The thick rammed earth walls results in a tremendous amount of thermal mass, keeping the indoors comfortably cool even in the middle of Californian summers. In the wintertime, radiant-heated concrete floors provide warmth. Working with a tight budget, the construction cost was greatly reduced by using standardized widths and repeating formwork. From site clearing to final inspection, the entire construction of this Mountain View residence happened within the short span of six months – a break-neck pace in the field of architecture and construction, but for Silicon Valley it could only be expected. 

By Juliet Hsu

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jack's House Finished!

Although there are still some minor tasks remaining we're going to call December 11th the last day of construction. We hooked up the gas and turned on the floor heat, took up all the paper and plastic protecting the floors, installed the stair railing, cleaned and mopped top to bottom. The irrigations systems are in, the sod installed, the front trellis welded in place, the walkways poured or tamped, planter beds built and planted, and all tools and trashed hauled either back to the shop or to the recycling center. Jack and Juliet are moving in over the next week.
The last six weeks were hectic, but we were focussed on a deadline of December 13th (the day we left for our R&R in Hana), and thanks to the help of many we made it.
I'll draft a final post with some cost and manpower analyses in a while, along with a few exterior photos once the landscaping takes hold, but for now take a look at the pictures in this post illustrating the relationships between the materials: rammed earth and gyp board, polished concrete, painted steel, glass tiles, and composite countertops.
To us, the project was a huge success: efficient construction, simple yet striking, great relationship building. Keep checking on the Rammed Earth Works website for future blogs. We're not sure yet which house we'll build for 2011, but I might create a blog to tell the story of how we built the house in Hana Maui. If I do, I'll call it "Shipwreck - Building on an Island".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving (week twenty) update

PG&E is scheduled for next week to hook up the gas and electricity, the last steps before the city grants an occupancy permit. All of the cabinets and appliances are installed, 90% of the plumbing and lighting fixtures, 95% of the roof metal, and the Caesarstone kitchen countertops come on Thursday.

We've delivered the fruit trees (three citrus, a fig, a cherry, and a persimmon) plus most of the rest of the plant material. We're setting the concrete and rammed earth pavers for the front and back walkways, and have built half of the recycled pipe arbor for the front porch. We're a little over budget, but ahead of schedule, hoping to move Jack and Juliet in the second week in December.

Although our real business is building stabilized earth walls - mix designs, equipment provisioning and training - at Jack's house, like Terra's house last year (and V3.0 next year), we are responsible for all aspects of design and construction. The challenge we set for ourselves is to refine the relationships between each of the various building elements, both structure and finish, in the hopes of establishing a new milestone for simple, practical, environmentally responsible housing.

The photos in this post show the standing seam roof metal and the front of the house with ebony stain on the recycled redwood. And as promised in the last post, a couple of photos of what the rammed earth crew are working on. The first shot is of a 200-foot long pise wall being shot in Yountville and the second is a 150-foot long 30-foot high rammed earth at Eric's house, overlooking the San Francisco bay.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Week eighteen update

The painters have left, the cabinets have been delivered, and most of the finish plumbing is set. The kraft paper is coming off the floors and the door hardware has arrived. Next week Cynthia is going to start Rene on the landscaping, although we're still waiting for PG&E to lay the gas service line which keeps the trench along the front door open.
Half of the rammed earth team is building walls in the hills above Mountain View and the other half is building walls at a Hertzog and deMuron project in Yountville. I'll try to have photos of the other jobs to show you next week. We're spread thin, trying to finish up a lot of work before cold wet weather makes building with earth even more challenging than it usually is.
The photos in this post show the living room trusses painted white, the kitchen cabinets in place, the recycled redwood front door and siding, and a picture of Jack in the shower hoping for water one day soon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week seventeen update

Sorry. I missed the update for last week. The painters have taken over the inside, right after the drywallers finished their mudding and sanding. Pretty much the interior is off limits until the painters finish, which should be the middle of this week.
The tile in the bathrooms is complete. The last of the window wall has been installed. The standing seam roof panels are on site and to be installed this week. The rough electrical and the gas are inspected and passed, both ready for hook-up.
We put the SIPs on the garage, finished all of the rammed earth face bricks, put up half of the recycled redwood siding, laid the irrigation lines and drain lines, and graded the site for landscaping.
The cabinets arrive on Thursday, just when the painters finish. Antonio will install the cabinets while Juan installs the plumbing fixtures. Look for big changes in next weeks photo update.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week fifteen update

Another week of working on several fronts. One team of masons finished the face bricks on the north wall while another team (mostly Juan working alone) worked on the west bathroom wall. Each team is using a slightly different technique as we try to evaluate the cost and appearance of the rammed earth veneer. The technique on the north wall has left a mortar residue that we are going to try sandblasting to remove. We think the sandblasting will also reveal more of the aggregate and create a texture that more resembles the rammed earth walls themselves.

We finished the rammed earth walls of the garage and used a high cement/low clay/extra water formula for the garage door header. We moved the mix rig and conveyors up to the project in Los Altos where we have walls to build week after next. With the equipment out of the way we were able to do a thorough clean up and graded the side and back yards. Good thing because it's raining this weekend.

Antonio built and installed the five-foot wide front door made of solid old growth redwood salvaged from Terra's water tank. The pivot hardware is so well-manufactured that the heavy door swings with the touch of a finger. He's also built the two big sliding doors for the downstairs bedroom. These doors were made of recycled doug fir.

The sheetrock tapers finish on Monday and the painter starts on Tuesday. The tile setters have finished all their mortar beds and are starting to lay the bathroom tiles. We're still on schedule to finish by Thanksgiving, but the budget is taking a hit.

The photos illustrate the work described above. Let me know what you think of the rammed earth brick veneer, or if you'd rather, wait until the landscaping is in.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week Fourteen Update

Here's a quick review and photos of progress from the past week at Jack's house. I had forgotten how slow and what a mess sheetrock taping and mudding is, especially going for a level 5 finish and with the details we're trying to achieve. We draped plastic over all the rammed earth walls and steel beams to protect them, but there are globs of mud on the plastic covering the floors and white dust everywhere. Cindy interviewed tile setters and painters, who came back with bids twice what we were expecting. There go my hopes of coming in under budget!

Outside the house we started laying up the compressed earth face bricks on two of the six framed wall faces, and we went back to work on the rammed earth walls for the garage. The 8" wide garage walls are turning out to be extremely dense and well-compacted, which must be a factor of the thin cross-section. The face bricks are slow to lay up, but creating an interesting contrast to the monolithic rammed earth walls. This is the first-ever application of an earth face brick that I know of. We're trying it here to evaluate whether or not veneers of rammed earth have any market potential. Wait until next week when I post photos of the walls finished, then give me your opinion.