Sawmill

Architect: Olson Kundig

Owner: Bruce Shafer

Location: Tehachapi, California

Project site: Greenfield (Previously undeveloped land)

Building program type(s): Residential – Single-Family detached

www.olsonkundig.com

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

This net-zero house operates completely off-grid, offering a new model for single-family residential design. Image: Olson Kundig

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.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2013

Year of substantial project completion: 2014

Gross conditioned floor area: 3,458 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 808 sq ft

Number of stories: 2

Project Climate Zone: Title 24 - Area 14

Annual hours of operation: 4,400

Site area: 1,677,060 sq ft

Project site context/setting: rural

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $166.7/sq ft

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 6

Project Team

Contractor: Bruce Shafer

Corrugated Metal Roofing: Steelogic

Engineer - Gizmo: Phil Turner

Engineer - MEP: WSP Flack + Kurtz

Engineer - Structural: Monte Clark Engineering

Master Welder: James Riddle

Jury

Michelle Addington, Dean, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Austin, Texas

Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, EHDD, San Francisco

Kevin Schorn, AIA, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, New York

Julie V. Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich, Minneapolis

M. Susan Ubbelohde, LOISOS + UBBELOHDE, Alameda, California

Jury comments

This house captures the phenomenology of living in the desert with the use of simple, frugal, reclaimed materials. The concept and composition are elegant yet straightforward. This is an excellent example of the potential beauty in a holistic passive approach. The house is completely off grid with a light environmental footprint.

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. The house, through its breathtaking simplicity, provides a calm but very smart connection with this profound and sometime hostile place.

Image credits

09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon_N2_high

Kevin Scott/Olson Kundig

09042_00_N57_high

Gabe Border

tom kundig - 09042_00_N58

Gabe Border

tom kundig - 09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon_N3

Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig

tom kundig - 09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon_N17

Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig

09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon_N32_high

Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig

09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon_N67_high

Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig

tom kundig - 09042_00_Sawmill_Canyon

Kevin Scott/Olson Kundig