Urban Eden: A Green Dream Home in Boulder, Colorado

A pair of architects in Boulder pull off the ultimate collaboration—their own family's dream home—an open, airy abode made of recycled polystyrene and cement blocks that takes full advantage of an idyllic urban setting.

| January/February 2003

  • The Barretts enjoy their time outside and in summer months, they often sleep on this balcony.
    Photos By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Architects Betzi and David Barrett with son Will.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Garnished with a ­fireplace by Heat ’n’ Glo, the bedroom is built asymmetrically according to the ­principles of feng shui.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • This stuccoed wall adds to the earthiness of the dining room, broken by the ­softness of the centralized hanging light. The Barretts used dark colors in their home for this sense of the earth.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • David and Betzi Barrett of Barrett Studio Architects (www.barrettstudio.com) designed and decorated their own Colorado home.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The family dog Sunny relaxes in the foyer atop concrete flooring with radiant floor heating.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • A tiger skin granite counter wraps around the Barretts’ kitchen, made complete with Berkower cabinetry (www.berkower. net/cabinets).
    Photos By Joe Coca
  • With their home at the edge of the Boulder community gardens, the Barretts can enjoy both the neighborhood and the surrounding environment, including a spectacular view of the foothills.
  • Concrete tiles grouted with black river rock stones deck the Barretts’ patio.
    Photos By Joe Coca
  • With their home at the edge of the Boulder community gardens, the Barretts can enjoy both the neighborhood and the surrounding environment, including a spectacular view of the foothills.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Son Will enjoys this climbing wall in his bedroom.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Their home, made of corrugated cementitious panels and Hardiplank fiber-cement exterior siding, uses a large percentage of recycled material.
    Photos By Povy Kendal Atchison

Outside, voices harmonizing to a Mexican radio station float on the evening air past walls and wedge-shaped pillars that rise out of the ground like Stonehenge monoliths. Inside, a house is under construction. Scaffolds lean, work lights shine, and craftsmen sing and stucco with care.

“There’s joy in these walls,” says architect David Barrett of the house that he and his wife and fellow architect, Betzi Bliklen Barrett, designed and built for themselves and their son, Will, in Boulder, Colorado.

Known as the “garden house” because it is at the northeast boundary of a local community garden site, the Barretts’ 2,500-square-foot home and detached garage with a 575-square-foot studio are made of stuccoed Cempo, corrugated cementitious panels (CCP) from Denmark, and Hardiplank fiber-cement exterior siding. Cempo, an energy efficient building system made of Portland cement and recycled polystyrene (the white packing material for electronic equipment), consists of 86 percent recycled material. The forms contain a series of channels—spaced on sixteen-inch centers—that run vertically and horizontally and are filled with structural concrete and rebar, which creates a post and beam matrix that replaces conventional framing.

“The idea of building with something that would have gone into a landfill is great,” David says of Cempo. “It’s a highly insulative, thicker wall, and the cementitious surface is alive, rather than plasticized, which seemed to be the right idea for being in the city.” And while the Barretts considered building with straw bale, Betzi says straw bale walls would have been too thick for their 70-by-140-foot lot, where every inch of space is important.

Construction on the Barretts’ home took fifteen months, and the cost came to around $200 a square foot. “It’s not always cheap to build with alternative materials,” Betzi says. “But I don’t want to put people off because it can be done less expensively, and we continue to learn how. Large expanses of Cempo are a much cheaper way to use the material, but we chose to cut, mold, and form it.”

City order and natural order 

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