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Planning and Sustainability

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Pre-design

Project parameters
Around the time that the Orpinelas moved into their "new" house in 2000, adult son Shawn was diagnosed with a porphyria--like disorder that makes him hypersensitive to chemicals. Although the various paints, adhesives, sealants and surfaces used to finish their home had no apparent impact on them, the combination of these materials created conditions very unfavorable to Shawn’s health. Skin irritations and a persistent sickly feeling were common. A visit to the doctor verified their suspicion that he suffered from the same disorder as other family members and this diagnosis would serve as one of two leading factors influencing the design and construction of the new guest house and studio.

The owner’s second guiding objective was to preserve the ecological and aesthetic integrity of the property. The land is heavily forested and a seasonally wet ravine slopes down to the end of the property. In addition to the expanse of trees, a variety of native shrubs and groundcovers blanket the landscape that, together, create an ecologically rich canopy structure. Birds and squirrels are noticeably frequent visitors suggesting that the smaller, less noticeable, members of the food chain are thriving as well. The Orpinelas pledged to respect the natural system encompassing their property and selected an architect that could articulate their objectives in built form.

The Orpinellas selected architect Erez Russo of the firm "THINK…Erez Russo Architect" which prides itself in sustainable residential and mixed-use design. The two parties fortuitously met at a park two years earlier and Russo later emailed Shawn to let him know about his firm. The firm’s emphasis on sustainable client and site specific solutions matched up well with the Orpinela’s desire to create a healthy space that has minimal impact on the environment. "We wanted to be green for our own philosophical reasons but we also wanted it to be a healthy space for Shawn to live and work," notes Johnette Orpinela.

Site
The original plot of land allocated for the studio was along a street but a survey revealed utility and road easements on the lot that were restrictive to the development. "After the easements, we probably had two square feet of buildable space," notes architect Erez Russo. A more secluded site was selected in a natural clearing formed by the ravine that cascades down to the corner of the property.

Keys to Success- Pre-design:
  • Understand the natural context of the future structure Choose to allow the natural setting to inform design decisions
  • Consider any unique conditions of the future occupant when making design and construction decisions
  • Select a project team willing to research and take on an unfamiliar construction methods
  • Identify any potential regulatory development restrictions