Connected to Nature: A Reclaimed Wood Home in Charlotte, North Carolina

Built by green design firm William McDonough + Partners, this rustic "home in the woods" creates the feeling of being outdoors though use of natural materials and lighting.

| August 2011 Web

Charlotte home facade

The facade’s stone base is echoed in the gravel landscaping by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

Photo By Philip Beaurline/Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

The following is an excerpt from "The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture" by Alanna Stang and Christopher Hawthorne (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005). The excerpt is from the section "Suburb." 

Charlotte, North Carolina, a banking center and one of the fastest growing cities in the southern United States over the last couple of decades, has a population of more than half a million. But you’d never know it from looking at the five acre piece of land for which the Charlottesville, Virginia firm William McDonough + Partners — long a leader of the green design movement — designed this two-story, three-bedroom house. Though the house sits within the Charlotte city limits, its rustic exterior finishes and sprawling, leafy grounds make it seem much further removed from urban life than the twenty miles that separate it from the heart of downtown.

“The site is essentially a hundred-year-old forest,” says Allison Ewing, the McDonough + Partners architect who led the design team. The property is dominated by stands of loblolly, or yellow southern pine trees, which grow thin and tall — up to 100 feet, in some cases. On this site, they’ve woven their branches together over time to form canopies that provide shade and an always-shifting variety of light patterns.

“We asked the client when they hired us to get a survey done,” Ewing adds. “Not just the site contours but a real tree survey. That identified the key, really beautiful trees we wanted to design around.”

Positioning the house along axes already defined by the existing trees was the firm’s first step in defining sustainability on this particular project. “Bill talks all the time about how and when we become indigenous to place, native to place, ourselves,” Ewing says, referring to William McDonough, the firm’s founder. In addition to running his thirty-person firm, McDonough is a noted author and frequent lecturer on sustainability and a partner in the design and consulting firm MBDC, which advises companies, including multinational corporations such as Ford, about how to design and produce without waste, or according to the principals of what he has termed “cradle to cradle” design.

For the Charlotte house, it wasn’t just a matter of knocking down as few trees as possible during the construction process. The architects aimed, from the outset, to create interior spaces that would mimic the experience of standing outdoors on the site. They also designed a vaulted roof above the main living areas to suggest the expansive sense of a canopy rising above.

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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