In the rugged ravines of Red Mountain in Aspen Colorado lies a beautiful house, one of the very first structures to be built in this area over thirty years ago.
Imperfect. Impermanent. Incomplete. These words perfectly capture the wabi-sabi aesthetic that this house exemplifies. Centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, one glance at the house and its interiors will show how asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of natural objects make up its beauty.
Like with any good green construction, the architects, Oppenheim Architecture + Design, looked local for building materials. Given the fact that this was an existing house that the architects were renovating, the opportunities for applying sustainable design was limited.
“Nevertheless, we were able to use reclaimed wood, local stone, maintain operable windows throughout, as well as the solar heating system,” say the architects. In the remodeling, wherever possible, existing elements were preserved in the new design. This led to less demolition, waste and minimal use of virgin materials. The exterior façade was covered with local stone and the interior donned with reclaimed wood. Some wood was also utilised in the exterior as a thermo protector.
One of the crucial elements in a green design is lighting. Windows form the majority of the façade. There are large windows in every room and they allow for a maximum influx of daylight. The design also facilitates great natural ventilation that results in good air quality limiting the need for air conditioners and electric fans to cool down the space. These large glass panels not only provide insulation but also bring the outdoors closer to the indoors.
A house that is designed to promote sustainability needs to have provisions for conservation of water. Here, xeriscaping is applied to the outdoor area which makes use of native plant species that are habituated to the climate and generally require less irrigation. The architects have also implemented effective “drip-irrigation” that waters the plants at the very source.
Moreover, heating of water is through solar panels which are located on the flat roof over the study. They fulfill the energy requirements of the house to a substantial level. There is a provision for making organic fertilizer as well. The house proudly preserves traditional fireplaces and in addition, there is a floor heating system and an air blown heater. Indeed, here green building and green living go hand in hand.
The interior of the house is equally simple and it is seen that a lot more wood has been used here. The rough unfinished look continues through all the areas within. Comfortable furniture is placed at critical points to facilitate a deeper appreciation of the natural beauty outside.
The main design influence seen here is that of the Japanese principle of wabi sabi. When we look at the house from outside, it seems asymmetrical in structure, sbut in a way this mirrors the rugged uneven mountainscape.
The wood and stone used in the construction provides the rough and natural look. With clean and simple lines the house exudes simplicity without the use of any over-the-top décor elements.
The accessories that have been used are understated and fit the locale and the idea behind the design completely. For example, the metal tubes on the dining table and the green frame behind it exert a quiet command. This austerity goes well with the quiet and immensely beautiful locale that envelops the house.The building technique and material unconsciously enforce a deep respect for the place and the surroundings. The overall effect is of a dwelling that is contiguous with its setting and sets a benchmark for any future homes in the area.
Text By Dhanishta Shah
Photographs Laziz Hamani