If you ask Thomas Robertson, the difference between actively green houses and his passively sustainable Courtyard House is the difference between “a solar-powered yacht and a sailboat.
” It could be argued that the most sustainable aspect of the Courtyard House is in fact the house itself: Built of metal studs and steel tube frame on a site that’s been graded and compacted, it should endure a century of drought, El Niño rain, and the odd earthquake. The stucco walls and galvanized-metal roof moderate heat, while the cool concrete floors suck it into the bowels of the earth. Roof overhangs control sunshine, shunning it in summer and allowing it to creep through the house in winter. The disappearing window-walls and thermal-chimney skylights allow sea breezes from the west to swirl and flow through the rooms—nature’s air-conditioning. “It’s like a big wind scoop,” says Robertson.
Like all new technologies, whiz-bang green is having its look-at-me moment; but like indoor plumbing and the iPhone, it’ll become ubiquitous soon enough. The Courtyard House jumps ahead of the curve by looking back at time-honored concepts of site-specific regional buildings (in this case the hacienda). You heard it here first: Passive is the new active.