Tag Archives: passive solar

Mark Allison AIA

kArchitect Mark Allison is a native of Asheville.  He left Asheville after high school to study at UNC Charlotte.  He followed that with studies in Denmark and then finished with his degree from the Pratt Institute.  Eventually, he moved to Atlanta where he spent several years working for the Epsten Group.  The Epsten Group was one of the first design groups in Atlanta practicing sustainable principles and LEED certifications with their projects. In 1997 he returned to Asheville where he worked for both PBC&L Architects and Samsel Architects.  One year ago, after completing a home for him and his family, he opened his own design office.

intro-homeMark’s office is in his new home, which is located in one of my favorite neighborhoods off of Town Mountain Rd.  The home was constructed on a steep slope opposite many 1960’s contemporary homes.  While creating a 3300sq.ft modern home for today his design kindly reflects the context of his neighbors all while balancing with the steep slope of his 1.5acre site.

I showcased Allison’s home on a previous post if you want more information.  Today, I will simply point out a few new details.  Mark’s use of sustainable materials was evident through much of his home along with incorporating some passive solar exposure.  The steep slope of the site allowed the incorporation of a deep basement into the foundation.  Mark made use of a pre-cast concrete system to allow for larger openings and more a natural light.  The basement does not feel like a basement.


One of the mechanical items I knew little about was the Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV).  Mark tried to explain it to me, but it went in one ear and out the other while admiring the house.  Doing an online search I found the dictionary explanation in unreadable technical jargon.  Still not getting it I found this website below.  It does a better job of clarifying the ERV and has nice diagrams which saves me from having to explain:


Previous to visiting Mark’s office and home I looked at his website.  I noticed two projects I wanted to discuss with him.

1street-final-copyOne of the two projects is a concept for a commercial building along Merrimon Ave.  Mark has a great deal of experience developing commercial projects.  In Mark’s words, “This building for a retail or office tenant creates a pedestrian oasis against heavy automobile traffic on Merrimon Avenue.  A south-facing courtyard shielded from the street by an armature of precast concrete and glass block wall creates a multifunction courtyard.  One passes from here to an inner court between an existing building and the new.  The design reinforces the emerging pedestrian character of this new urban edge. The challenge was to create an economical, energy efficient shell that is true to its concept, affords flexibility to its future tenants.”  I could immediately recognize and appreciate the attempts Mark was making to address both the automobile and the pedestrian.  The simplicity, scale and continuous portion of the architectural marquee creates a billboard to help identify it from an automobile.  At the same time the way the pedestrian level falls back becomes welcoming to those on foot.  For me they are simple, clean gestures that get the job done while addressing issues that many new buildings along Merrimon don’t.

 1jh-copy0815-plan-sd-copy1The other project I noticed is a home he is creating for a family in Asheville.  He is designing a 1500q/ft., sustainable house that will house 3 generations under one roof.   The house utilizes passive solar design principles and is tailored to its gently sloping site.  Shared terraces and courtyards join both the public and private wings.  I appreciated what he and his clients were working to achieve and believe that they were creating something we will see more of in the future which is a smaller home with the flexibility to house more generations, accommodate a professional office all while working to be energy efficient.

Looking at Mark’s projects you notice that he works closely in blending the program of each project with the context of the specific site.  He works back and forth with all the different issues involved in designing a building until there is a natural balance of all the pieces.  Mark also brings something new by including his individual, creative touch as one of those pieces.

(text by Troy Winterrowd, Mark’s house photos by John Fletcher of the Citizen Times)

Werner Haker


Mindful Constructions

The Artist, Werner Haker, has been painting for 8 years.  He has dedicated himself full time to his paintings and considers it his current profession.  He goes to his practice every day.  “It’s my way of chopping wood and carrying water,” he likes to say.  This is how he currently makes his living.

Since the production of his last show at The Haen Gallery in Asheville, Werner has chosen to take a break from doing gallery work, as it tends to change the focus of creating.  During this time his paintings have evolved and emerged further from the wall as assemblages.  “The illusion of space is transitioning to the reality of space”, says the artist. He wants to create work that is more experiential.  An ultimate goal for him is to create installation pieces to activate spaces.


Here I snapped a photo of Werner in front of one of his latest assemblages.  It’s called  Box Car Memorial. He begins with a theme or notion when he starts a piece.  This time it was the Holocaust.  Having grown up in the generation following the Holocaust in Germany he discusses the weight of the collective unconscious that people were living with during that time of reconstruction. Through the use of deconstructed symbolism, composition, weight, texture, and large and small-scale experiences – a story is pushed and pulled into existence to ultimately be completed by the observer.

Werner likes to focus on the process of creating.  He is “mindful” of moving back and forth from thought to intuition and from randomness to precision.  Improvising, constructing, deconstructing, the final sobering decision becomes when to stop.  When is it enough?  That is when we connected on something we both appreciate, the richness in expressing something with so little.  As he puts it, “How to achieve the highest degree of complexity with the least means.”  This is a principle of modern creation and a good point to transition to further spatial reality, architecture.

The Architect, Werner Haker, has been practicing architecture for decades beginning in Europe.  Achieving a degree in architecture he has taught, worked and had influential roles in mega-firms and ETH – The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Since moving to the Asheville area 15 years ago he has been a guest professor at NC State along with doing some private practice work.  It is his house he designed, for him and his fashion designer wife, five years ago that became a great point for discussing his practice of design. exterior2

Werner’s house was created to be a low cost, low maintenance, passive solar and sustainable stage for not only enhancing and maintaining daily life, but for quietly stepping out of its way. The nuts and bolts description is a 3000sq/ft box that is divided half into home and half into work studios.  The walls and the roof are created from a typical industrial steel structure and incorporate 8” insulated walls.  They are made from recycled steel components.  All walls are non-load bearing.  The exterior siding, doors and windows utilize low maintenance, standardized components to keep initial and future costs to a minimum.  He likes to describe the style as “Bauhaus Trailer.”  Interior walls are created to combine and frame multiple, back-to-back functions.  fireplace1The wall of the fireplace becomes more spatial to serve as media storage, fireplace and a screen for hiding the office along with structure for supporting the desk beyond.  Combining functions is another modernist principle in design.

To emphasize the last point we can take a more detailed look at the floor.  The concrete slab floor in Werner’s home was designed to serve three functions.  First, it is the key component to the structure of the house, the foundation.  Second, it is the main surface or backdrop to the stage of living in the house, the floor.  Third, the slab is also an integral component of the home’s mechanical systems, heating through a combination of a hydronic radiant system with additional passive solar.

Compare that to a traditional home.  First, there are often footings to support the base of the home.  Then on top we may add wood beams, floor joists and sub-flooring, before getting to the final finished surface of the floor.  We can then add the cost of the finished floor material (carpet, stone, wood) on top of the costs to all the layers of supporting construction. All these components are used to complete the floor and we don’t have the addition of using the floor for heat.  In fact, we have created a floor that allows heat to escape and requires extra cost and material to keep the heat contained.  Again, like discussing his art, we both find ourselves compelled by the richness of creating so much with a seemingly small gesture.  On the surface, the concrete slab appears simple and void of thought, but in reality it contains layers of sophistication. hall

When applying this idea to the rest of the home what is the result?  As both a designer and realtor I know that homes in the Asheville area can be purchased for $150 to $500/sq.ft.  I have met a builder who can build a decent quality traditional home, not sustainable, for $100 sq/ft.  Werner has constructed his home for $70/sq.ft including all infrastructure and labor.  It may be a good time to consider the implications of this, compare it to the houses created today and the quality of life of its inhabitants.


Werner states it is not a matter of being green on its own.  That is only one aspect of a broader way of thinking.  Again, it is a matter of being “mindful” of each choice he makes in designing a home.  Like his art, it is a matter of knowing when to add, when to combine and when to take away.  Does an element enhance or hinder the story and the ability for the observer to create their own story?  final-illustration3Likewise with architecture, does an element enhance or hinder living life in a home and the freedom to create your own life, both today and tomorrow?

(text and photos by Troy Winterrowd)