Frame House

Project Description

There were two key objectives for Frame House: celebrating the indoor-outdoor lifestyle and views of the Sonoma Valley while providing respite from the scorching summer sun, and designing a house sensitive to the growing threat of climate-change impacted wildfires in the region.

A concrete framework establishes the structure, organization, and rhythm of the house.  The repetitive grid of columns supports a deep loggia,  giving a respite from the hot Sonoma sun.

Rooted on a plateau above a forested canyon and vineyards, this structural grid maximizes the connection between the inside and out, allowing for natural light and direct access to the exterior from almost every room in the house. The loggia, which wraps three sides of the house’s perimeter, shades the living spaces below and provides access to expansive views from the second level decks.

After the Nuns Fire damaged the property in 2017, a key driver of this project was to create a house that would be fire resistant, but not an all-concrete bunker.  The materials of the house are organic and rustic in their appearance and tactility, while providing resilience against the threat of the wildfires which have become prevalent in the Sonoma valley and damaged the previous residence on the site.  To protect the new home while paying homage to a Northern California wooden vernacular,  concrete shear walls are clad in a sacrificial layer of greying wood siding between the columns, which also organize the interior spaces.    All materials which face the natural environment are intended to resist the potential of wildfire: concrete structure, concrete masonry unit sheer walls, cement panel soffits, and non-combustible roofing material were chosen to armor the exterior. Windows are metal clad on the outside, though wood clad on the interior. A fire sprinkler system is integrated throughout the interior, and a solar field and power wall battery system are connected to the well and water supply pump to ensure function in emergency.

The home has an extroverted relationship to the California landscape, connecting the interior in almost every room to the landscape and vistas beyond.  On the inside, the home is organized around a double height space over the kitchen that connects the two levels and is punctuated  by a floating catwalk connecting the two bedroom wings upstairs.  To add warmth and texture to the interiors, the main level is clad in bleached douglas fir, while concrete floors maintain the connection to the outdoors and provide a durable surface for kids running in from the swimming pool.

The home relies on both passive and active systems to control its thermal environment.  Deep overhangs and strategic glazing provide natural shading and daylighting throughout the home. The slim volume of the home allows for extensive cross-ventilation with symmetrical openings on either side.   A photovoltaic system offsets the total electricity usage throughout the year and supplies back-up batteries to keep the property operational in the event of an outage onsite, and power the fire sprinkler suppression system protecting the building if needed.


Design Challenge

In this wildfire-prone region, defense from extreme fire events like the one in 2017 that significantly damaged the original home was one of the most important design drivers for the project. The primary structure is not only non-combustible concrete, but all of the solid walls bracing the concrete frame are constructed with extra layers of fireproofing to protect the systems underneath. Non-combustible concrete & stone decking are used wherever applicable, and non-combustible cement board panels clad the exterior porch soffits. The site is supplied with a photovoltaic & backup battery system to keep the property operational in the event of an outage onsite, and, more importantly to power the fire sprinkler suppression system protecting the building should it be necessary. The site is off the grid in terms of sewer & water with its own dedicated well & septic that are also backed up by the batteries. More holistically speaking, the concrete framework provides the robust, adaptable bones for a building that could remain intact for centuries to come; its simplicity and elemental quality make it a system that can weather extreme events and support reconfigurations of interior partition walls with its integrity remaining intact.

Physical Context

On a rocky perch above a wildfire-prone wooded canyon, this home needed to have a fire-resistant armor (see design challenge).   Its concrete structure echoes the craggy rocks upon which it is both rooted and perched with its rough natural texture.  The warm cedar siding, purely a decorative and potentially sacrificial cladding, connects the house to its forested setting and ties it to the tradition of California modernism.  Its large glass walls bring the exterior and views into the house when inside, and reflect the nature from the outside, giving the home's inhabitants a full appreciation of the site. Beyond wildfire-mitigation, the clients also challenged us to create a building that helped control the sun and solar gain, providing shade in the primary rooms and over outdoor spaces to give the family respite from the often scorching Sonoma climate.  A concrete grid-like loggia was designed to provide shade to both floors, also giving the bedrooms access to the large viewing terrace.  The loggia is deeper on the western facade, where the sun hangs long into the summer evenings. Large operable glass doors and windows create porosity between the interior house and the exterior gardens and swimming pool; almost each room of the house has direct access to the outdoors, and opposing windows provide the opportunity for cross-ventilation for natural cooling and fresh air.