Tag Archives: passive

Architects Design Their Own Passive Houses

Given access to all the great evironmental elements we have here in Asheville many people and design practitioners utilize passive principles in home design and constructions. Doing this provides a greater connection to the outside while minimizing utilities. Kelly and I both have southern facing hillside homes that benefit from both sun and wind. Check out this nice article from Becky Harris for Houzz for more ideas. Cheers!

Mindful Constructions

Today, it has been almost 5 years since I first started writing Modern Asheville. As I look to evolve what I am doing with it I also look to maintain the heart of what I first thought important to share. While spending Saturday night sifting through my writing I found this simple message in one my first articles published in early 2009. It represents the spirit of what I look for here in Asheville while searching our hillsides for design driven constructions. Enjoy your Sunday.

Mindful Contstructions


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 aexterior2go 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.

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 fireplace1the style as “Bauhaus Trailer.” Interior walls are created to combine and frame multiple, back-to-back functions. The 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 allkitchen-diningows 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.

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 by comparing 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 final-illustration3to 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? Likewise 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?

by Troy Winterrowd