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R-House: An Efficient, Affordable Urban Housing Prototype

3/22/2011 6:44:30 PM

Tags: R-House, American Institute of Architects, AIA Housing Award, Della Valle Bernheimer, Architecture Research Office, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailWhen I was editor-in-chief of Natural Home, I would eagerly mine the list of annual AIA Housing Award recipients for good green homes to feature in the magazine. Ten years ago, I’d be lucky to find one or two. In a remarkable sign of just how mainstream green building has become, every single one of this year’s recipients is a model of smart, environmentally friendly design and construction. Green is the new normal. And this year, it was hard to pick a favorite—but I did.

R-House, a prototype residence in Syracuse, New York, designed by Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office, is a 1,100-square-foot home designed as part of an initiative to revitalize the blighted Westside neighborhood in Syracuse. Affordable and innovative, R-House achieves minimal- to- net-zero energy consumption within architecture meant to nurture the spirit and engage the community. The house was designed to exceed the German Passivhaus ultra-low energy standard, utilizing an extremely well-insulated exterior envelope, an efficient recirculating heating and ventilation system, and high-performance windows that optimize solar gain.

The home is airy and bright, with a two-story space lit by large south-facing windows that provide passive solar heat and an adaptable design that could transform from a two-bedroom to a three- or four-bedroom house by extending the second floor over the living space. Its expansive, luminous interior spaces require only the equivalent energy of a hair dryer for heating.

“This is an exciting idea,” one AIA juror wrote. “There are such great mass production possibilities.” Another juror heralded R-House as “a new slant on sustainability.” I suspect—and hope—we’ll see more of this house.

 r house exterior 

r house exterior 2 

The home is clad in aluminum siding fabricated by Litsco.  

 r house interior 

Large south-facing windows provide passive solar heat and natural daylighting. 

r house interior 2 

The architects designed the home to nurture spirit and community.

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