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"Aquaterra," Tourist Visitation House
Woodacre, California USA






Developer: Mr. Greg Snowden
Location: Woodacre, California
Date: 1991-Present
Cost: Approximetly $8,000,000.00 for the first prototype
Square Footage: 12,000 square feet

Construction Materials: Vegetable-based plastic, ceramic/glass composite, lightweight, high-strength concrete, stainless steel, flagstone, glass laminate, madrone and monterey pine finshing wood.

Special Features: "X" plan bridge structure, earthquake resistant with spring-loaded, neoprene gasket design, roof deck water-filled skylight, aerodynamic design to enhance hillside updraft to power two "eggbeater" windmills, completely self-sufficient, photovoltaic solar cells for electrical power, 60 foot waterfall to recycle and cleanse water and to control temperature and humidity build-up, house walls are water-cooled, see-through acrylic/glass pool structure, house completely leaves the natural ecology undisturbed, two walk-way bridges lead to two separate levels of entrance.

Owner Requirements: The house must be appealing and educative to all ages and generations of people; must be absolutely ecologically sensitive to the site and to its own functions; must be self-sufficient in energy use; wherever possible use materials and methods of construction that are not harmful to the environment

Ecological Requirements: Same as above



Color rendering of Aquaterra


General Background of the Project: Mr. Greg Snowden saw our work at the Celebration of Innovation Exposition in San Francisco. He has a profound interest in ecology and permaculture and wanted to build a building that would be the ultimate in advanced ecological design. The house also had to be something striking, timeless and mysterious so that people would want to come back to see more. Mr. Snowden had an option to purchase a five acre hillside property which faced west. The property had consistent presence of wind which made the use of windmills a probability; it also had a 30 to 45 degree incline. Since Mr. Snowden was strongly in favor of not disturbing the land a concept emerged where the building might soar over the site rather than try to excavate into the hillside. Excavating would be both costly and harmful to the site's ecology.

The functions of the house, given the programmatic requirements, become an educative experience to the public. The house contains the following functions not normally understood by the general public:

1) Sewage water cleaning system using sunlight and water plants recycled throughout

2) "Eggbeater" windmills for electrical power

3) Cold water recycled throughout the walls of the house for summer cooling

4) Integrated photovoltaic solar cells for electrical power

5) Specially designed earthquake mitigating shock absorber foundation plugs

6) "X" configuration arch structure for unilateral stability

7) Aerodynamic design that acts as an airfoil to accelerate wind uplift to windmills

8) Suspension design that allows downward vistas through the floor

9) Waterfall cleaning system for general use water

10) Roof garden terrace with see-through stone and glass composite floor

11) Non-mechanical air conditioning and heating system

12) Prefabricated, post-tensioned structural system for ease and efficiency of construction


In plan the "X" configuration can be likened to a person stabilizing themselves facing downward with their hands and feet spread evenly apart on the floor and body off the floor. During an earthquake this low, four point position is extremely stable for it minimizes contact surface area, affords a very low center of gravity and makes the possibility of overturn very difficult. The "X" form also provides lateral stability so important to aerodynamic efficiency.

The living areas of the house are suspended from the "X" bridge giving the structure flexibility in the event of an earthquake. The symmetry of the egg-like shape also provides an energy efficient design minimizing the surface area and maximizing structural strength. Aerodynamics plays a key role in the design because the climatic conditions of the site dictate a design that must respond to heat year round. Therefore a form that disipates heat and is aerodynamic must be chosen. One of the most effcient forms for air flow is the saucer shape but its streamlined proportions make it difficult to accommodate an effective use of volume. The next progression, then, is an inflated saucer shape which then approaches the egg shape.



Close-up view of the roof garden, waterfall, and pool.


The greater portion of the house is encompassed by this egg-like form at its center from which air can readily accelerate around its surface. The lower portion of this "egg" contains the bedroom level which features floor windows from which persons inside the building can see to the ground below, thus, the form itself gives new sensibilities for viewing. The levels above contain the living, dining, office and kitchen areas which are illuminated by glissening natural light reflecting off the waterfall pool at roof level. This effect of dancing light creates an aquatic ambiance that is both exhilerating and meditative.

An elevator core surrounded by a helical stair provides vertical access to all levels. Stairs are built into the limbs of the "X" spine and lead to the hills that flank the building. Rain water is led from a watercatch trough into the 100 foot diameter swimming pool below. This water is then pumped up to the roof and left to drop 60 feet to the pool again. The 60 foot drop is enough to oxygenate and kill the bacteria in the water. Inside the wall cavities there exists a interlaced branching of vein-like water capillaries. Water recycled through these veins act as a cooling mechanism to counteract the heat.

Underneath the see-through glass composite swimming pool is a grouping of very large boulders that help to support the weight of the pool. Foot paths wind their way through the giant boulders bathed in aquatic light from the pool above. All of the main structures on this site are positioned on rock outcroppings to minimize disturbance to the flora and fauna and to provide a rigid foundation.

As a whole, the house soars over the hills seated delicately on the rock outcroppings which crown the land. It grows gracefully from its terrain to reveal its mysteries and looks out to the future.




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