written by:
April 14, 2009
Originally published in Beyond Green

It has been nearly half a decade, but the Dwell Home II is back! Construction began this winter in the hills outside Los Angeles, and a true model of domestic sustainability takes shape.

This rendering of the Dwell Home II’s exterior shows the perforated screen that lets air into the house, without the use of a pump, as part of a passive cooling system.

This rendering of the Dwell Home II’s exterior shows the perforated screen that lets air into the house, without the use of a pump, as part of a passive cooling system.

1 / 2
Photovoltaic panels and a green roof will cap the project. They will also work to integrate the house into the natural setting.

Photovoltaic panels and a green roof will cap the project. They will also work to integrate the house into the natural setting.

2 / 2
This rendering of the Dwell Home II’s exterior shows the perforated screen that lets air into the house, without the use of a pump, as part of a passive cooling system.

This rendering of the Dwell Home II’s exterior shows the perforated screen that lets air into the house, without the use of a pump, as part of a passive cooling system.

When we reported more than four years ago that the Dwell Home II, designed by Los Angeles–based firm Escher GuneWardena Architecture, would be built on a hillside site in Topanga Canyon, we had no idea that construction wouldn’t begin until the fall of 2008. But patience is a virtue in home design and permitting—–and the commissioning homeowners, Glen Martin and Claudia Plasencia, had enough of that to go around.

The story of the Dwell Home II will doubtless be familiar to long-term readers, but it’s worth looking back at the project to see what the fuss has been about—–especially when the impulse behind the design remains so inspiring. We kicked off the Dwell Home II Design Invitational back in the winter of 2004 with the modest goal of creating a new model for sustainable residential home design. Martin and Plasencia enthusiastically stepped in to volunteer their own plot of land as a future site for the project, and in collaboration with Dwell they picked an original and ambitious home design by Escher GuneWardena. Fast-forward to spring 2009, and the home has broken ground, construction is well under way, and the residents are chomping at the bit to move in.

Martin’s original interest in the project came from an unexpected source. When he moved to California in 1991, it was to Huntington Beach, where he took a job in the aerospace industry, working for McDonnell Douglas on the International Space Station. Martin stayed there for roughly seven years, soon getting involved with “all sorts of interesting stuff,” he says, including collaborative testing projects with NASA astronauts at the Weightless Environ­ment Training Facility over in Houston. McDonnell Douglas’s location in Huntington Beach was the same facility that had developed Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems in the 1960s, including water- and air-recycling technologies.

“I got very familiar with the technological constraints of being in a closed environment,” Martin explains, “and I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind. When it came time to build our own house, and Claudia and I sold our old home, we got thinking about what we really wanted out of the structure.” And what they really wanted was “an integrated system—–not unlike a space station.”

“When we wrote the original creative brief for the design competition,” he continues, still sounding genuinely interested in the process after all these years, “we realized that there were two very different approaches to making a project green. One way is that you just substitute certain materials with a recycled something or other, and you call it green; the other is that you really think about the house itself as a living system. And Escher GuneWardena really thought about the house. They pushed the envelope of home design, and they created something that would capture all the benefits of living in Southern California.”

The home’s many green features include a 360-degree, wraparound   veranda that allows for easy indoor-outdoor living; proper site orientation for winter and summer sun exposure; the installation of a backyard leach field instead of an infrastructural connection to the city sewage system; and a radiant floor, which uses small pores at foot level, called floor air channels, as vents for the passive cooling system. Cleverly disguised holes on the outside of the house—–a screen that otherwise appears ornamental—–let cool air into a crawl space located beneath the house, where it circulates before diffusing throughout the rest of the structure via the radiant floor.

Finally, after many long years of financial and bureaucratic delays, Martin and Plasencia’s space station in the Los Angeles hills is taking shape. Martin jokes that they often felt like characters in a Kafka novel—–and, indeed, the lengthy process taught them some surprising lessons about building green in the City of Angels. For instance, even in an era of ecologically responsible home landscaping, Martin and Plasencia were stunned to find that the fire department actively discourages the use of native plant life—–because the desert botany of the region presents far too strong a fire hazard.

Stay tuned: We’ll be checking in regularly with both the homeowners and the project architects to see how construction is progressing.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016