Our Path to Zero, Part II: Design Influence

Two of the great pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, designed houses based on the following premise: a house should be an efficient tool that provides for the necessities of life and is free from decoration. Le Corbusier actually named his houses “machines for living,” taking advantage of new technology to support his theories. At a time when load-bearing walls and masonry construction were the norm, Le Corbusier embraced new construction methods. 

Notably, he used reinforced concrete supported by slim columns to provide large open spaces that could be divided as needed. Because the exterior of the building was independent of the structure, he was able to use long uninterrupted windows sealed with gaskets, a new technology derived from aircraft manufacturing. The Villa Savoye, designed between 1928 and 1931, is a culmination of these principles. The house is deliberately detached from the ground to reinforce the concept of a self-contained machine. 

The Villa Savoye

Fifteen years later, the equally brilliant architect Mies van de Rohe also leveraged structural innovation in his house design. The Farnsworth House, a weekend house designed in 1945 for his friend Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is the finest exemplar of his ideas. Using new steel technology and curtain wall design, the house allows for a simple thin framework with floor to ceiling windows around the entire perimeter of the house. Unlike the Villa Savoye, this house was designed to embrace the surrounding landscape, to “bring nature, houses and human beings into a higher unity,” in the words of Mr. van de Rohe. This concept of connecting built environment to landscape has been particularly inspirational in our design.

The Farnsworth House

When my husband and I set out to design our second house on a beautiful undisturbed site surrounded by 250 acres of nature preserve, we set up our own design guidelines:

  • Locate the house on the site to retain as many trees as possible.

  • Make as efficient a floor plan as possible to minimize construction materials and site disturbance.

  • Use new “Passive House” energy technology to heat and cool the house with a minimum of energy expenditure.

  • Connect the house with the surrounding landscape, as much as possible, with floor to ceiling operable windows on the south and west exposures.

  • Use interior finishes that are sustainable and warm.

  • Use exterior finishes that require little to no maintenance.

Below find our design plans that will make all of our concepts a reality.

Site Plan

Floor Plan

Axonometric of Structure

Exterior structure facing south west, floor to ceiling operable windows on south and west, and interior wood beams continue to allow shading in summer.

View of Living Room

45 foot long open kitchen, living, dining reduces materials and allows light throughout

Wall Section

Roof truss structure allows for added insulation / 1"9" wall made of 2 x 6 studs, exterior insulation and cedar siding

Through much of the Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe design influences, my husband and I envisioned our own unique perspective. Our goal is to have the smallest impact on the planet as possible with an efficient and beautiful space while accommodating our home to its natural environment.

Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED® AP, WELL AP, Principal

Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED® AP, WELL AP, Principal