Gray Organschi Architecture — This compact, self-sufficient little building in Washington, Conn., started out as a way to rationalize a sloppy work yard on a sensitive watershed site. But what it became was a beguiling essay in the expressiveness of ordinary materials, both architectural and not, that form its exterior.

The client is a landscape maintenance company that had its materials—palettes of stone and wood, and piles of sand and mulch—strewn across its property. Environmental officials asked the company to clean the place up to protect the watershed. The result is a simple enclosed work bay with an extended canopy, inside of which is space to park a forklift and store heavy equipment. More storage space and the mechanical units are located on the basement level.

The structure is one of basic tubular and structural steel, with a bolted node-and-chord space frame supporting the roof. A bi-folding door encloses the shed. Outside, polycarbonate-paneled walls carry heavy-duty cantilevered shelving with galvanized steel-grate racks for palettes of stone, tile, and firewood. Mulch (in warm seasons) and sand (in cold) are stored beneath the canopy against walls of caged Gabion baskets, which suit the aesthetic of utility well.

Because this is a working building, it needs energy, all of which comes directly from nature. On the roof, translucent solar panels generate enough power for lighting, tools, and a heat pump—extra power is sold back to the local utility company. Heating and cooling come from a ground-source geothermal system that plunges as far as 400 feet beneath the surface.

This is one of those projects whose virtues are simple and self-evident—so much so that it took the category with little discussion. “It’s highly inventive,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones. And Aaron Betsky found himself a gem: “It really rocked my world,” he said.

Project Credits

Client Kevin McGarry, Catalpa Land Management
Architect Gray Organschi Architecture, New Haven, Conn.—Elizabeth Gray, Alan Organschi (principals); Thomas Sawyer (project architect)
Structural Engineer Edward Stanley Engineers
Mechanical and Geothermal Engineer Beacon Mechanical Service
Solar Energy Design Spire Solar
Construction Catalpa Land Management
Size 1,200 square feet (including basement)