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Canyon House Highlights Relationships in Nature

Boulder, Colo. residence is an expression of dichotomies

Boulder Residence May22 Ma 1

Photo: Steve Mohlenkamp

The way in which a river erodes its banks, with the trees and earth pulling away, became the inspiration for a new residence, known as the Canyon House, in Boulder, Colo. C. Miles La Hue, architect at Boulder-based Idiam Architecture, and general contractor for the project, says he is intrigued by the evidence of a flood, and how it can be expressed through the breakdown of layers, much like how a small stone actually started out as a huge boulder that broke apart in its descent to its resting spot at the bottom of the canyon.

Design Influences

The natural environment is a major influence in La Hue’s design, which he expresses by setting up dichotomies to explain different things. “In this case I wanted to express dynamic and static, additive versus subtractive, living versus inert,” he says. “Like the relationship of a mountain and the stream eroding it over time. Specifically, here I used the garage concrete mass as the static permanent rock with the layered spires around the entry as a dynamic flow. The concrete as the inert mass with the vertically layered area being the live section. Much like a tree growing impossibly in a crack or crevice of a cliff face.”

Photo: Steve Mohlenkamp

In that sense, La Hue notes the entry elevation represents growth and decay, with the spires acting as the new evidence of a new layer being grown to protect the house, similar to how bark grows from the inside to protect a tree.

Metal Details

Due to the likelihood of wildland fires in the Boulder area, La Hue uses metal on the majority of their projects. “We used aluminum composite material (ACM) because it guarantees me a smooth surface without it being too busy,” La Hue says. “When the language of the building calls for smooth, minimal seam work and a higher tolerance to poor workmanship, or difficult working conditions, I like to use ACM since it is light and the panels are less fussy than others.”

For the residence, Laminators Inc. supplied approximately 2,000 square feet of its ACM panels and extruded trims. Additionally, the project features 24-gauge corrugated siding from Berridge Manufacturing Co., San Antonio. American Dream Builders, Fort Collins, Colo., was the framer, and RMS Solutions, Denver, was the installer.

The wall envelope is an offset double 2-inch by 4-inch stud system with an insulated cavity spray. Glass on the north side of the building is limited. Appliances are Energy Star, 99% efficient, with all low-water plumbing fixtures. The project also has an off-site 10kWh photovoltaic system.

Photo: Steve Mohlenkamp

Dramatic Entrance

Located on the other side of the stream is a highway that is loud and intrusive, making it difficult to even hold a conversation on-site. The residence has a dramatic entrance designed to engage people who drive by or occupy the house. “The parabolically curved ACM on the north face has few windows and is designed to deflect the noise of the highway,” adds La Hue. “The windows on the entry façade were designed to be skinny to limit seeing into the building from the highway and framing the view from within away from the highway.”

The curved entrance provided some challenges with the flashing and curved brake metal. Having a lot of experience with curved brake metal, La Hue designed all of the curves with a radius he knew would be possible with 10-foot sections of properly designed brake metal shapes. When he couldn’t find anyone to take on the installation without segmenting the pieces, La Hue showed the framer how to gracefully bend properly designed brake metal and ACM trim pieces. “The brake metal of the spires covers framing that the extremely patient framer installed, while I was there telling them to move things over by a half inch or more,” he explains.

Since the curves also cantilever out, La Hue says they started with a few baselines and then curved the framing as it suited his eye. “I designed all the brake metal flashings to accommodate the curves and designed screw tracks so the brake metal would not dimple at each screw attachment,” he says.

Photo: Steve Mohlenkamp

Seasonal Light

For about four months of the year, the home site doesn’t get any direct sunlight. In the winter, the southern sun is too low, and the canyon walls are too steep to provide good light. “Like a tree impossibly growing out of a rock face, the building reaches up over itself, bends out over away from the hillside to try and collect the cold season light,” explains La Hue. “At the top looking toward the mountainside, there is a large strip of horizontal windows acting like a clerestory window arrangement. The majority of glass is to the south, with an uphill view.”

Site Challenges

The most challenging part of the project, La Hue says, was building the residence on the hillside that had very little room and no easy access. The excavation and foundation took six months since they had to excavate and pour the concrete for the project in two different phases because there was no room for the excavation spoils. And, they had to use two pumper trucks to get the concrete to the site since the bridge wasn’t strong enough for the concrete truck.