Launch Slideshow

Award: R-House

Award: R-House

  • The R-House is grounded in its site--the landscape was formed from earth excavated for the house's foundation.

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    The R-House is grounded in its site--the landscape was formed from earth excavated for the house's foundation.

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

    The R-House is grounded in its site--the landscape was formed from earth excavated for the house's foundation. A berm planted with a native grass encloses the backyard, and a paved terrace allows space for a kitchen garden. In winter months, a slight depression in the backyard can be flooded and frozen for skating. And since many lots in Syracuse's Near Westside neighborhood (where the prototype will be located) are similarly sized, this site configuration can be deployed easily throughout the area.

  • Developed by the design team as a simple folded surface, the form of the R-House can be seen as a (literal) twist on the traditional gabled roof: The architects set the gable askew and tucked small front and back porches beneath it.

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    Developed by the design team as a simple folded surface, the form of the R-House can be seen as a (literal) twist on the traditional gabled roof: The architects set the gable askew and tucked small front and back porches beneath it.

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

    Developed by the design team as a simple folded surface, the form of the R-House can be seen as a (literal) twist on the traditional gabled roof: The architects set the gable askew and tucked small front and back porches beneath it. Energy-efficient features are integrated into the house's design. Ample windows with triple-pane, double-low-E glazing on the south face optimize solar gain, while external shading and an operable skylight aid passive cooling. Heating demand is met entirely by warming the required fresh air supply. The house's compact form enhances its energy performance, which meets Germany's stringent Passivhaus standard.

  • Model from the side.

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    Model from the side.

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office

    Model from the side.

  • The house's base floor plan (second from right) can be adapted in multiple ways.

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    The house's base floor plan (second from right) can be adapted in multiple ways.

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

    The house's base floor plan (second from right) can be adapted in multiple ways. An owner can live on the first floor and rent out the upstairs (far left); turn the first-floor office into a child's bedroom (second from left); add a fourth bedroom, on the second floor (middle); or use the office to accommodate extended family (right).

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office

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    Courtesy Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office

Built on a narrow, deep lot in the historic Near Westside neighborhood of Syracuse, N.Y., the compact R-House offers a prototype for extremely low-energy housing that’s also affordable and adaptable to different family configurations. The 1,100-square-foot house meets Germany’s ultralow-energy Passivhaus standard on account of its airtight construction, superior insulation, efficient heating and passive cooling, and southern-facing windows, which optimize solar gain. Heating the R-House requires the same amount of energy as using a hairdryer.

Taking a cue from the surrounding houses, Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office put a slight torque on a conventional gabled roof, producing a simple, folded form that’s progressive, yet in keeping with its neighbors. The house makes use of common but carefully detailed materials: corrugated aluminum on the roof and exterior walls; concrete, wood, and translucent polycarbonate panels (these serve as a luminous boundary between private and more public spaces within the house) inside. The two-bedroom-plus-study base plan can be adapted to three bedrooms, or one bedroom plus an upstairs rental. Owners can even extend the second story—truncated to allow for a double-height space on the south side of the house—if they wish to add a fourth bedroom.

“You can actually change the distribution [of spaces] in the house, which is kind of nice,” remarked juror Cristobal Correa. “It says, ‘This provides economic stability as family units change over time.’” Correa noted that the design was likely “quite radical for Syracuse … And it seems like a pleasant little house to live in. It’s a nice scale.”

Juror Frank Barkow was impressed by the integration of the systems with the design approach. “It just seemed like it had all the systems in place. It also had … a certain modesty about it, that you could produce a decent house that was probably, I’m guessing, $100,000 [or] $150,000.”