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House 7 Uses Concrete to Create a Dynamic Relationship with NatureProject designed and built by Fu-Tung Cheng of CHENG Design, Berkeley, Calif.
House 7 was conceptualized as a small village made up of a cluster of interconnected structures that work together to create a harmonious whole. Shown here are the two-story main house, office, guest house, meditation center, and garage. Most of the exterior walls are 15-inch-thick insulated concrete, with some of the walls clad with reclaimed redwood felled over 100 years ago. (All photography by Matthew Millman)
Photovoltaic roof panels cover 60% of the roof. In the second floor hallway, a peaked ceiling is angled for maximum solar gain, and skylights illuminate steel tendons to express the structural tension of the winged roof and the lightness of the vaulted space.
The butterfly roof is pleated at the front of the house so that 50% of the rainwater flows onto the lower roof deck of the separate office structure. There, the water percolates through a 6-inch layer of gravel and emerges at the corner of the building to cascade down rusted steel-plate rain leaders.
The owner of House 7, an artist, was invited to place personal objects within the plywood wall forms for this erosion time-lapse wall before the concrete was placed. The objects will eventually emerge as the wall erodes.
All concrete work crafted throughout the home (including cantilevered stair treads, walls, geo-forms, front entry fabric-formed column, concrete countertops in kitchen and bathrooms, and all inlays) were fabricated by hand and detailed by Fu-Tung Cheng and his team, oftentimes creating hands-on, spontaneous compositions on site and in the shop.
House 7 in Los Altos Hills, Calif., may be the ultimate example of how concrete can be used both structurally and aesthetically to stretch the boundaries of creative expression. Designed by Fu-Tung Cheng of CHENG Design, who also supervised the overall construction, the 7,000-square-foot home was recently honored with a first place 2014 International Design Award for residential architecture. Only three first place awards were granted in this year’s contest among more than a thousand entries from 52 countries.
“We created a beautiful house, but it was totally unexpected to win out over the many prestigious firms that each year submit entries to IDA. This house represents everything I have ever worked on in concrete to date. It has it all,” says Cheng.
House 7 is Cheng’s seventh custom home, and as with his previous effort (House 6), he used concrete throughout to achieve his ambitious design objectives. His intent was not only to shelter a family, but also to engage them with all the elements. The sun, rain, clouds, heat, and coolness are collected, conserved, and then repurposed to invite reflection and connection to the weather and to reap environmental benefits, says Cheng.
Striking in appearance, House 7 is a multi-dimensional structure conceptualized as a “small village,” where dwellings of various scale support and harmonize with one another. This interconnectedness, along with the home’s dynamic relationship with nature, contribute to a sense of warmth and human scale.
Cheng fully utilized concrete’s inherent strength, organic nature, sustainability, and sculptural attributes to execute his vision for House 7. Insulated 15-inch-thick concrete walls minimize heating and cooling needs. In addition, a passive solar concrete wall absorbs the heat of the sun in the winter. At the home’s front entry is a celadon-colored sculpted geological concrete wall that weeps water like a natural rock face. At the rear of the home, an “erosion time-lapse wall” made from a deliberately weakened concrete mix is designed to slowly wear over time and reveal sculptural objects placed within the concrete.
On the interior, the home features sculptural concrete interior walls, custom concrete stair treads cast in unusual shapes and angles, concrete floors and countertops with unique decorative inlays, and other unexpected surprises. As with all his homes, Cheng combines concrete with other materials such as steel, glass, wood, and tile to create diversity and design interest. To view all the exquisite concrete architecture throughout House 7, click on the following link to take exterior and interior video tours.
House 7 Project Team
Building designer: Fu-Tung Cheng, Ann Kim and John Chan of CHENG Design, Berkeley, Calif.
Builder/contractor: R.J. Dailey Construction, Los Altos, Calif.
Structural engineer: Endrestudio Emeryville, Calif.
Landscape architect: Lutsko Associates, San Francisco
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