Green Good Design Awards Tell a friend

Green Good Design Awards ARCHIVE 2016 Green Architecture
Duluth, Minnesota, USA | 2014
Architects: COULSON 
Client: Private

“Wilderness is a spiritual necessity, a means of regaining serenity in our modern world.”—Sigurd Olson. 

It inspires a childlike curiosity for exploration and a sense of being outside of time. 

MH House is located in the dense urban fabric of downtown Duluth, Minnesota but strives for a transformative sense of place that weaves the Architect’s love for the beautiful North Shore landscape into a suite of compact, near-zero energy, modern glass pavilions.

MH House re-imagines a new, highly flexible, office and residential building type that embraces the mixed-use, urban location and anticipates the future needs of the Client and the community.  Each floor has a bathroom and kitchenette and can function as four individual studio apartments, as a single-family home with a detached office/apartment/guest suite, as an office on the ground floor and apartment living above, and several other variations.

The simple architectural form and site placement is based on function, efficiency, views, and the sun.  The new one-story and three-story buildings, arranged perpendicular and offset vertically, create an oasis of in-between courtyard spaces.  This positioning allows every floor a generous lake view and the ideal exposure for passive heating.  Continuous floor to ceiling glass captures the winter sun and frames the expansive vistas of Lake Superior to the southeast, the Duluth Harbor to the south, and Observation Hill to the southwest.  The only solid walls face the northwest and northeast.

From the alley to the north one crosses a stone landscape wall and down a narrow lane through a dense grove of tamarack trees. Lake Superior comes into view from the paved stone plinth which appears to flow inside the buildings.  Tall reedgrass provides a sense of enclosure around the courtyard where one can enjoy a quiet lunch, a summer office party, and visitors can park.  An 8 ft horizontal and vertical gridwork establishes human-scale proportions and a compact form, lends an order and rhythm to the design, and supports an extension of grating which blocks the midday summer sun. 

MH House acts as a vessel to experience the outdoor world: the landscape, the cityscape, the weather, and the seasons.  This open exposure is balanced by strong timber beams and a wood wardrobe wall which keeps one grounded and feeling warm and sheltered.  Passing through the wardrobe wall (like in the classic C.S. Lewis childhood book) one crosses with youthful exploration between the extroverted and sunlit live-work world on one side and the introverted refuge of the stairway-lounge-library on the other side.


“How much does your building weigh?”—R. Buckminster Fuller. 

MH House takes on this challenge in energy, resources, cost, flexibility, and aesthetics. The design achieves a 90% reduction in primary energy demand (without any on-site or off-site renewable energy systems) using passive and low-tech solutions: extremely compact exterior form, passive solar heating, summer shading, super-insulation, air tight and thermal bridge-free construction, and energy efficient heat recovery ventilation.  These methods result in a 95% reduction in heating load.  In an extremely cold climate where January low temperatures are often –30˚F, the peak heating load for the entire project is only 2000 watts (one hair dryer).  As a result, there is no need for a traditional space heating system making it easier to achieve thin floor lines and an honest exposed structural aesthetic.  There is also no need for an active cooling system as the tiny geothermal heat exchanger integrated within the ERV will cool and dehumidify the incoming fresh air in the summer.

The projected energy savings will last the lifetime of the building as the primary focus is on permanent, passive solutions. Additional energy savings are achieved with Energy Star rated appliances and LED artificial lighting.

Potable water consumption is reduced by 48% with high-efficiency dual-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads and faucets, and a drought tolerant green roof and landscaping.  Stormwater is held and filtered on-site with vegetated roofs, permeable paving, a French drain system, and rain garden zones.

The construction approach is a pre-fabricated kit of parts, planned on a rigorous grid, where the exposed construction is a central part of the aesthetic.

•  EPS insulation “raft” surrounding a concrete slab-on-grade.  R-value: 81 ft2 h/BTU.

•  Triple-pane structural glazing factory-adhered to composite frames.   R-value: 10 ft2 h/BTU.

•  VIP (vacuum insulated panel) wall and roof deck panels.  R-value: 57 ft2 h/BTU.

•  Triple-pane, tubular skylights in integral xps insulation curb.  R-value: 11 ft2 h/BTU.

•  Local limestone pavers, floor tile, and stair treads.

•  Recycled porcelain aggregate.

•  Recycled industrial copper screen panels with factory-applied patina.

•  Local Isabella blue stone used at sliding-pivoting interior wall and door panels.

•  Local and recycled white terrazzo at bathroom floors, walls, and ceilings.

•  Reclaimed douglas fir timber beams and storage wall cabinetry.

•  99% efficient tankless, electric hot water heater placed on each level.  

•  800 watt electric radiator panel with mirror finish in each bathroom, the only active space heating system.

•  84% efficient, passive house certified ERV including pre-heating/ pre-cooling of outside air

with integrated geothermal heat exchanger connected to 4 helical vertical ground loops 15 feet deep.

 •  Natural ventilation in the summer may be provided when VIP wall panels are removed, utilizing the copper screen to transform the stairwell into a large screen porch.

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