Upgrade U: Taliesin students translate a longtime tradition into an urbane guest residence

Posted on September 21, 2010

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Best Green Houses,
Taliesin Design-Build Class

By David Sokol,Via:greensource.construction.com

Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Arizona, has enjoyed a string of good years. In one example, says school dean Victor Sidy, AIA, “Our projected enrollment for this fall is in the low 30s, which is higher than it’s been since accreditation in 1987.”
For Taliesin, crowding on its desert campus has been the price of success. Indeed, every first-year student participates in the Taliesin Shelter program, in which she lives in an eight-foot-square freestanding shelter of her design and making. When architect and professor Michael P. Johnson initiated a design-build class early last year, the students decided to solve another side of the housing shortage by applying the principals of the Shelter program to an upgraded residence for visiting faculty, lecturers, and other school supporters…
 

Photo © Bill Timmerman

“With this structure, we really wanted to capture the spirit of [Taliesin Shelter] living, but add the benefits of water and electricity and a little more insulation,” Sidy says. “It was a real hybrid between that notion of living simply in the desert and living with all the creature comforts.” …
 

Photo © Bill Timmerman

Students erected the 600-square-foot building’s structural insulated panels in just two days, and Wolf/Subzero, Brizo, Floorgres/Florim Ceramiche, and other creature-comfort companies donated fixtures and surfaces…

Photo © Bill Timmerman

Occupants of this house have their own bathroom, too, whereas students share a central locker-room facility. Moreover, the $45,000 budget, provided largely by a donor, funded the purchase of sustainability luxuries like a photovoltaic array…

Photo © Bill Timmerman

Proper siting spells protection from the Arizona sun, but the separation of the bedroom from the other living spaces, via a breezeway, obliges users’ interaction with the outdoors. “One of the real touchstones of a Frank Lloyd Wright School education is this constant inquiry of the relationship between man and nature,” Sidy says. And the project bears other Wright hallmarks, such as its cantilevering volume and use of the color red.

Photo © Bill Timmerman

Yet the one-bedroom home also is lean and tough like the desert. Its steel-chassis structure, engineered to endure highway shipping in a mass-production scenario, connects to the ground at only six points. The roof, whose slope was calculated to accommodate differently sized Milgard sliding glass doors, channels rainwater into a cistern.

Photo © Bill Timmerman

Although constructed in place, the new guest house has been dubbed Mod.Fab. Not just suitable for prefabrication and truck transport, the 13-foot-wide building is in negotiations to be produced and distributed by a private company. “If the Taliesin Shelters are poems about the romance of the desert, this was an essay about living compactly in the desert,” Sidy says of Mod.Fab. Soon enough, that essay will be rewritten in prairies, forests, and coastal areas, and potentially with similar success.

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