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Harvard Solar House

Paul Lukez Architecture

Project Name

Harvard Solar House

Year Completed



2,000 sq. feet

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Project Description

The Site: This modest 2,000 SF house is located on a 2.5-acre site in Harvard, Massachusetts. The town, some 30 miles northwest of Boston, is well known for its lovely farmsteads, rolling hills, stone walls and horse farms. This rugged site has dramatic rock outcroppings and picturesque topography. A U-shaped stone wall defines the front of the lot and creates a kind-of-threshold to the back of the site, which is quite private. A careful reading of the acreage, accomplished through many visits, sketching and consultations with consultants (geotech engineers) provided our team with a clearer understanding of the site’s unique underlying geology and topography, as well as its scenic qualities. The Client: Having both recently retired from a well-known local university, where one was a professor and the other a provost, the clients sought to build a new home that would accommodate their changing needs and interests. Having lived in a larger home while raising their family, they now wanted a more compact house that was still spacious and uplifting. In addition, the clients have a passionate interest in creating a house that was as much “off-the-grid” as possible. The professor in particular was enthralled with the new technologies available to achieve this goal. The Program: The resulting program was for a 2,000 SF house with two bedrooms and a screened-in porch. The public spaces were to be connected, yet spatially distinctive. Light was a premium, as was the need to make the house as energy-efficient as possible. Achieving zero-energy was a goal, but more important was the clients’ need to address energy intermittency. Strategies for overcoming this challenge were key. The Team: To meet the client’s goals, we assembled a capable team of “green” mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, a solar design company (design and installation), structural and geotechnical engineers, and a landscape architect. Working closely with the team throughout the design process, we developed a wide range of design solutions to meet the programmatic and performance standards set forth. The Design Strategy: Given the relatively tight budget, we decided to develop a simple plan for the house. The rectangular plan has only one aberration in its otherwise rectangular layout, where the living room wall flairs out to work with the site lines. Likewise, the roof profile was conceived in a simple “shed” form. Its height and pitch are adjusted to accommodate the optimal size of the rooms below it, as well as the ideal solar panel orientation. The roof is clad in metal, much like local barns. Its ends flare out to match the geometry of the stone wall, picking up some of the rugged site’s bucolic rusticity. Thus the subtle difference between the roof’s geometry and the volumes of space below it highlight the contrast between the building’s response to the sun and the client’s programmed spaces. The house’s entrance is marked by a steel beam that extends beyond the eave, forming a gateway of sorts. Entering this intimate vestibule, one is offered a view of the full extent of the building’s southern façade, as well as the rocky outcroppings to the west. A stair with canted walls greets visitors. Early morning and late afternoon light bounces off the north façade as a vertical blade and is reflected down the stairway. The common areas comprise a kitchen, a dining room and a living room. Each offers unique views of the landscape as well as dynamic views of other interior spaces. The stove anchors the west façade, providing extra warmth on very cold winter days. A blank-like deck protrudes over rock formations, offering dramatic vistas of the surrounding landscape. The southern façade tries to balance the need for 12-inch insulated walls with as much window space as possible. A small screened-in porch, two feet below the main level, offers an entirely different visual experience of the site. The bedrooms are stacked on the east side of the house. The master bedroom has prominent views of the stone wall and overlooks the entry driveway. Its master bath also serves as a guest bath without compromising privacy. Another bedroom directly above the master bedroom can double as a recreation room, study, or all-around retreat. The mechanical room houses the solar-panel invertors and (2)16kWh batteries that store additional energy produced by the 56 solar-panel array… Models generated by the engineers and consultants indicate that the house will produce 110-120% of its energy needs. The battery systems will allow for up to three to five days of intermittency, depending on actual usage levels. The two wood stoves in the living room and master bedroom provide additional heat at no extra cost. The exterior is clad in black-stained cedar siding with a terra cotta-colored trim package. The front door and all of the cabinetry are made of natural wood. At night, the warmth of the wood-colored interiors will read dramatically in contrast to the black exterior, especially on snowy winter days. Summary: This house attempts to create a form of shelter that is deeply connected to the landscape while serving its clients efficiently and poetically, in as energy-conscious a way as possible.
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