Architect: Olson Kundig
Owner: Bruce Shafer
Location: Tehachapi, California
Project site: Greenfield (Previously undeveloped land)
Building program type(s): Residential – Single-Family detached
Set in California’s harsh Mojave Desert, Sawmill offers a new model for the sustainable single-family home. The client brief called for a self-sufficient home that maximized connection between architecture and nature, and between family members inside. The 5,200 SF concrete block, steel and glass home is designed to stand up to the severe climate of the fire-prone Tehachapi Mountains. Demonstrating that high design can also be high performance, Sawmill is a net-zero home that operates completely off the grid.
"The team is commended for their site-specific analysis, as evidenced by the decision to let rainwater recharge the water table rather than collect it. If a single-family dwelling is to be built in a desert climate, this is how to do it." ~ Jury statement
Set in California’s harsh Mojave Desert, Sawmill offers a new model for the sustainable single-family home. The residential sector in the U.S. continues to be the highest consumer of energy; today more Americans reside in single-family homes than any other housing type. In 2016, 750,000 new single-family homes were constructed—more than double the number of multifamily units. More than any other building type, creating a new model for the single-family home has the potential to dramatically shift the energy landscape in the US, demonstrating that high design can also be high performance,
Sawmill is a net-zero single-family home that operates completely off the grid. The client brief called for a self-sufficient home that maximized connection between architecture and nature, and between family members inside. Riffing on the tradition of tents around a campfire, the house is comprised of three wings connected by the central hearth in the living area. A 12-by-26-foot window wall retracts with the turn of a wheel, transforming the outdoor patio into the fourth “tent” around the fire. Tough as nails, Sawmill’s durable materials will withstand the harsh climate, where fires are a major hazard in summer and winters are extremely cold. The design approach was driven by a scavenger mentality, seeking always to do more with less, including using salvaged and recycled materials whenever possible. Sited to minimize disturbance to its remote environment, Sawmill acknowledges that while the desert is harsh, it is also fragile. Historically, the valley had been used for mining, ranching and logging – hence the name “Sawmill.” Recognizing this past exploitation of the site, the homeowners wanted their house to give back to the land, rather than take from it. Sawmill stands as a testament to high design as an environmental ethic—a building that connects people to place.