Sun and Shape, Poetry and Patina: The Copper House offers a glimpse of what sustainability could look and feel like.

Posted on September 21, 2010

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Best Green Houses
Della Valle Bernheimer
By David Sokol,Via:greensource.construction.com

Of all the discussions that take place on the Internet, the conversations that amend GreenSource’s online stories may be some of the most constructive. Readers are genuinely committed to sustainable buildings, and they generously share their insights in the comments to advance the conversation around green design and encourage their colleagues to produce ever more sustainable work. But, according to the threads that appear every month—discounting a bit of vitriol disproportionate to the editorial content, a trapping of digital-age anonymity—readers frequently question what, exactly, makes some of these houses the “best”?

The Copper House, a weekend home located in the Hudson Valley that architect Andy Bernheimer, AIA, and his firm Della Valle Bernheimer, designed for Bernheimer’s family illustrates one integral criterion at work…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Photo © Richard Barnes

…The form of the building was conceived as “carved by the sun,” says Bernheimer, who cofounded the Brooklyn-based studio with Jared Della Valle in 1996. The north side of the 2,400-square-foot volume appears as a rectilinear whole, with a small cedar-clad appendage that contains an office…

Photo © Richard Barne

…In section, the south side of the building features multiple notches into which light monitors are placed…

Photo © Richard Barnes

…The light monitors are not completely glazed. Rather, stock Jeld-Wen units are installed in their canted eastern and western faces. Sunlight enters these openings, bounces off a light shelf and onto a plane that curves downward into the room below, telescope-like…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House

Photo © Richard Barnes

…Although Bernheimer says that Ecotect is beginning to win fans with his students, he modeled the light monitors according to sun angles using very simple black-box planning in 3ds Max. And because the monitors require excess framing to accommodate their internal geometry, the voids within are crammed with R 38 blown-in insulation…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House

Photo © Richard Barnes

…For further insulation, windows are scarce here. They are located only according to the views they afford, framing a specific birch tree or creating a cropped panorama of forest…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House

Photo © Richard Barnes

…Yet Copper House is bathed in daylight—of the diffuse variety that doesn’t require sunglasses. Because the light monitor topping the guest bedroom looks east, for example, sunrises slowly cascade into that room, waking visitors who likely never connect with Mother Nature so viscerally from their New York apartments. The dining room’s light monitor faces west, and harvests the last glimpses of dusk…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House

Photo © Richard Barnes

…The exterior is clad primarily in vertically oriented corrugated copper siding and flat-seam and standing-seam copper roofing. The material requires no refinishing, says Bernheimer, who forecasts that it should last between 30 and 50 years. And, he says, its slow color change from shiny-penny to aubergine to verdigris evokes the evolution and growth of the parents and two kids inside…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Photo © Richard Barnes

…Bernheimer, using Della Valle as his sounding board, mixed several other smart solutions into his home brew. They include radiant-floor heating (under FSC-certified jatoba planks), a 98-percent-efficient wall-hung boiler fueled by a propane tank, and kitchen cabinetry that deploys recycled aluminum. The daylighting from the light monitors makes for very low electricity usage…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Photo © Richard Barnes

…If Della Valle Bernheimer had pursued LEED with Copper House, certainly it would not have scored every point. Bernheimer says, “We didn’t set out to just design a sustainable house—green thinking should be normative thinking anyway.” …

Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Image courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer
…For a design that aims for sustainability in every way, then consider R-House, which Della Valle Berhneimer designed with Architectural Research Office for the Syracuse University School of Architecture competition From the Ground Up…
Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Image courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

…The affordable residence follows Passivhaus criteria, and it is under construction now…


Image courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

… “We’ve found that the Passivhaus standards more than satisfied the highest LEED requirements, even exceeded them. But Passivhaus building technologies are still nascent, non-standard, and not regarded as popularly as LEED.” The industry itself hasn’t agreed on the best rating system…

Best Green Houses: The Copper House
Photo © Richard Barnes

…So consider Copper House formally. Its shape is intrinsically informed by passive solar design and expresses those concepts in turn. And the copper cladding, marking the passage of time through its accumulation of patina, subtly reminds us that we must show our built environment the same care we devote to our families. This combination of poetry and pragmatics—which promises, someday, an architectural vocabulary reinvented for sustainability, rather than adapted to it—helps define the “best” in “Best Green Houses.”

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