tsui design and research inc.
architecture city and regional planning clothing industrial design
eugene tsui in the media home research contact us

back to architecture

Residence for Tim & Deanne Wilson
Point Arena, California USA

Owner: Tim & Deanne Wilson
Location: Point Arena, California
Date: 1992
Engineer: Val Rabichev, Optimal Design Group, San Francisco, California USA
Cost: $25,000.00 in materials
Square Footage: 1800 Square Feet

Construction Materials: Recycled automobile tires, recycled aluminum cans, recycled plastic bottles, felled beetle-eaten trees, native sand mixed concrete, re-used glass and plywood.

Special Features: Passive solar--under the floor heating and cooling system; all interior and exterior walls made of stacked, soil-filled automobile tires, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, spiral floor plan allows for ease of adding bedrooms and living space; observation roof deck, bermed construction surrounds north, east and west sides; out-of-site parking.

Owner Requirements: Extreme economy and the use of recycled materials which are not harmful to the environment, extensive application of "Permaculture" principles, functionality and ecological sensitivity, it must heat and cool itself with little external power usage, be able to accommodate future expansion without an add-on look, contain a root cellar and fireplace and be made of fire-resistant materials wherever possible.

Ecological Requirements: Every aspect of the design incorporate ecological sensitivity with the building acting as an exemplar of ecological design--infused and harmoniously supportive of sustaining and strengthening the living environment.

General Background: Tim Wilson is the first trumpeter for the San Francisco Opera and is extremely interested in preservation of the environment and a self-sufficient lifestyle. He and Deanne, his wife, also have a profound interest in the education of their children and the strengthening of family relationships. They purchased 40 acres of hilly property about one mile from the Pacific Ocean. They attended an exhibition of our architectural work and were attracted by the underlying philosophy of ecology and self-sufficiency.

Although they live in Corte Madera, California they wished to have a country home in the spirit of a rustic cabin retreat that they could build by themselves with their friends. An absolute requirement was that the building be made of recycled materials and be designed to integrate the concepts of "Permaculture"--utilizing the natural surroundings as a basis for self-sufficiency. With this attitude in-mind the emphasis was not so much on the design of the house as with the house being an integral, "living", feature of the site. Thus site and architecture were a living whole that would be completely reliant upon each other.

The design of the Wilson house features throw-away tires, plastic and aluminum cans as building material for a house that is partially nestled in the ground. Soil is used as inexpensive insulation bermed up against the house on the north, east and west sides. An inclined ramp leads to the main west side entrance and the south side is a continuous wall of sliding glass panels. The roof inclines northward from the south side as both a run-off plane for rain and as an interior warm air guidence system. Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this design is the passive solar cooling and heating system which uses no mechanical parts or eletrical power.

The south-facing glass wall is heated by the sun. The interior air behind this glass rises to the ceiling then tends to follow the slope of the ceiling to the cooler north wall. Having been cooled the air then settles downward passing through a series of in-floor vents to hidden air cavities under the floor boards. The cooler air is then attracted to the warmer south surface and air is drawn to the south side. Upon reaching the south side and being heated the air rises again to follow the same sequence continually. Thus a consistent cycle of warm to cool to warm air is created with no mechanical moving parts and no power system needed. The system works much the same way as the termite nest described in a previous chapter.

In the winter season, when the south-facing glass wall is colder than the north wall the system simply reverses itself. The south side air, being colder, drops down through the floor level vent system and moves northward under the floor. Being asttracted to the warmer north side the air then rises to the ceiling through the north floor vents. As the air meets the ceiling it naturally flows up the inclined ceiling towards the cooler south side. As the air meets the south glass wall it is immediately cooled and drops down through the floor vents to begin the cycle again.

The house uses earth berms to provide insulation and to create an aerodynamic wind slope to let wind pass over the house. A roof deck permits views above the tree level to see the panoramic sweep of the Pacific Ocean. Parking is east of the house and completely out-of-site of the south-facing glass wall. The main entrance is northeast covered in part by the north berm.

Another outstanding feature of the house is its use of "throw-out" materials, particularly automobile tires and aluminum and plastic cans and bottles. Automobile tires are available in plentiful numbers and they are a blight on the land. The challange of any material is its potential use for a structural purpose. The automobile tire itself is not particularly strong but when placed on its side and filled with compacted earth it becomes a positionable structural item capable of supporting significant loads. There have been concerns about the rubber in the tires eventually breaking down or creating toxic gas from being burned. Our solution to this was to cover the tires, bottles and cans with a "skin" of 3" reinforced concrete throughout the entire building. Thus completely encasing the recycled objects in a sealed-off container. The tires themselves act as structural ornamentation by creating rows of undulating, rhythmic "bulges" that appear like horizontal waves.

The convoluted plan of the house was developed to accommodate the needs of the owners. The Wilsons requested that the house grow natually with increasing size of the family. The Wilsons expected to have at least two more children from the two they already have and wanted a house plan that would look at ease being added to in the future. They feared having a house that looked like it was added to every few years. Something graceful and continuous in plan was envisioned. We simply asked, "How would nature solve this problem?" The spiral plan was arrived at because it accommodated an ever increasing addition of space and it increased the size of secondary space in direct proportion to increase in primary space.

The tighter portion of the spiral plan contains the kitchen and utlity areas which were required to be smaller and compact. The spiral plan nicely integrates this reduction in space while simultaneously creating larger, open spaces. An added benefit is the plan's open direction to one side and its continuous arc-like backside--perfect for resisting pressure against it. This combination of qualities makes the spiral plan nature's perfect solution.

back to top
© 1998 tsui design and research, inc.
no content displayed on this site can be used or copied
without written permission from tsui design & research, inc.
symbiosis | holoscope