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Mies van der Rohe once said, "We must remember that everything depends on how we use a material." In this Palo Alto, CA, residence constructed from rammed earth, steel, and glass, and finished in white oak, ipe, and American walnut, architect Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture holds true to Mies' dictum. Thanks to the liberal use of natural materials, the house attains a comfortable sensibility noticed by nearly everyone who passes through its earthen walls. "Guests are, without exception, completely taken by how the house is very modern, but also very warm," say the owners, who wish to remain anonymous.

The residence consists of two main masses: a rammed earth base made from soil excavated from the site and a long ipe-clad wooden box that cantilevers over the ground floor. Bifurcating the forms is a slim glass band that wraps around the building, making it seem like the upper story hovers independently of its base. In addition to an almost reverential treatment of materials, the residence is imbued with a strong green ethic evidenced by the passive cooling features, a drought-tolerant "meadow" landscape, PV array, and radiant floor heating. Smith says this was the most complicated house he'd designed, but maintains that nothing was dogmatic. "It's not about being 'green' or 'cool' or making a monument; it's about the fundamentals of architecture," he says.

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  "This was the most complex house I've ever done," says Smith of the residence, which is located on a corner lot in a quiet residential neighborhood in Palo Alto. Though the facade shown here faces the street, it is actually the back of the home. Making all sides appear to be a front was challenging for Smith.  Photo by: Joe FletcherCourtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010
    "This was the most complex house I've ever done," says Smith of the residence, which is located on a corner lot in a quiet residential neighborhood in Palo Alto. Though the facade shown here faces the street, it is actually the back of the home. Making all sides appear to be a front was challenging for Smith.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

    Courtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010

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  "We originally proposed using concrete for the walls because we like the plain style and directness," the owners say. Instead of concrete, Smith suggested rammed earth, a material that combines some of the physical properties of concrete, but is less "psychologically cold." The 16-inch-thick walls' thermal mass helps to insulate the interior from heat in the summer and cold in the winter."Rammed earth is complicated," says Smith, "so have the right expectations, do the research, and hire the right people." David Easton—who Smith calls "The Godfather of Rammed Earth"—headed the contracting team that built the walls.  Photo by: Joe FletcherCourtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010
    "We originally proposed using concrete for the walls because we like the plain style and directness," the owners say. Instead of concrete, Smith suggested rammed earth, a material that combines some of the physical properties of concrete, but is less "psychologically cold." The 16-inch-thick walls' thermal mass helps to insulate the interior from heat in the summer and cold in the winter."Rammed earth is complicated," says Smith, "so have the right expectations, do the research, and hire the right people." David Easton—who Smith calls "The Godfather of Rammed Earth"—headed the contracting team that built the walls.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

    Courtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010

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  The project's most challenging aspect, according to Smith, was orienting the residence. "It was difficult to create a strong, attractive, and handsome design in a corner location."  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The project's most challenging aspect, according to Smith, was orienting the residence. "It was difficult to create a strong, attractive, and handsome design in a corner location."

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The large windows shown here open up allowing hot air to escape during the summer months, a passive cooling technique that helps the residents stay comfortable without an air conditioner.The house boasts a number of green features, which begun with the demolition of the pre-existing residence that dated from the 1930s. Over a five-week period, the old house was carefully deconstructed and its materials were either reused in the new house, donated to the local ReUse, or taken to recycling centers.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The large windows shown here open up allowing hot air to escape during the summer months, a passive cooling technique that helps the residents stay comfortable without an air conditioner.The house boasts a number of green features, which begun with the demolition of the pre-existing residence that dated from the 1930s. Over a five-week period, the old house was carefully deconstructed and its materials were either reused in the new house, donated to the local ReUse, or taken to recycling centers.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  A traditional genkan (a Japanese entryway) was part of the architectural program early on. Shoes are removed before entering the main living space, which is elevated six inches above the floor level of the entryway. The blonde wood is rift-cut white oak.  Photo by: Joe FletcherCourtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010
    A traditional genkan (a Japanese entryway) was part of the architectural program early on. Shoes are removed before entering the main living space, which is elevated six inches above the floor level of the entryway. The blonde wood is rift-cut white oak.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

    Courtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010

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  The wooden flooring shown here is American walnut.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The wooden flooring shown here is American walnut.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The stairwell is a key feature in the home. It's located in the back of the house so that people are drawn into the interior spaces and can interact with whoever is home. The stairwell also houses a hefty amount of storage. All of the cabinetry was designed by Spiral Design out of South San Francisco.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The stairwell is a key feature in the home. It's located in the back of the house so that people are drawn into the interior spaces and can interact with whoever is home. The stairwell also houses a hefty amount of storage. All of the cabinetry was designed by Spiral Design out of South San Francisco.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  A significant part of the design was its execution, which was carried out by general contractor Kirk Welton. "The details are so tight," says Smith, who remarked that the finished details were exactly as drawn or even better. Here, an intersection of the materials: ipe, rammed earth, glass, and white oak. "A comment we get all the time is that the quality of the finishing is very high," the owners say.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    A significant part of the design was its execution, which was carried out by general contractor Kirk Welton. "The details are so tight," says Smith, who remarked that the finished details were exactly as drawn or even better. Here, an intersection of the materials: ipe, rammed earth, glass, and white oak. "A comment we get all the time is that the quality of the finishing is very high," the owners say.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  Xeriscaping-drought-tolerant landscaping—was an important part of the house's resource efficiency. Instead of a typical lawn, the owners planted a meadow of native grasses and installed artificial turf, which requires no maintenance. The landscape design was a collaboration between CCS and John Greenlee, and was installed by Berkeley-based Siteworks Landscape.  Photo by: Joe FletcherCourtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010
    Xeriscaping-drought-tolerant landscaping—was an important part of the house's resource efficiency. Instead of a typical lawn, the owners planted a meadow of native grasses and installed artificial turf, which requires no maintenance. The landscape design was a collaboration between CCS and John Greenlee, and was installed by Berkeley-based Siteworks Landscape.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

    Courtesy of: Joe Fletcher Photography ©2010

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  Open spaces were very important to the close-knit family of five and the kitchen/dining area is one of their favorites in the house. The stainless steel countertops and hood were fabricated by American Metal Products out of San Francisco. "We spend a lot of time in the kitchen. The big table is used for eating breakfast, lunch, kids homework, dinner, school projects, etc. It was designed to be the center of the house and it's worked out really well," the owners say.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    Open spaces were very important to the close-knit family of five and the kitchen/dining area is one of their favorites in the house. The stainless steel countertops and hood were fabricated by American Metal Products out of San Francisco. "We spend a lot of time in the kitchen. The big table is used for eating breakfast, lunch, kids homework, dinner, school projects, etc. It was designed to be the center of the house and it's worked out really well," the owners say.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  A lot of attention was paid to integrate the indoors and out. The kitchen and dining room are seamlessly bridged to the porch via 65 feet of sliding glass doors. Building the porch on a corner helps create a more intimate environment says Smith. Just out of the frame is a flowering pear tree that's a focal point of the yard. "It's beautiful to sit inside and look out at the garden and the tree. Or, if it's warmer, open the doors and feel the breeze," the owners say.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    A lot of attention was paid to integrate the indoors and out. The kitchen and dining room are seamlessly bridged to the porch via 65 feet of sliding glass doors. Building the porch on a corner helps create a more intimate environment says Smith. Just out of the frame is a flowering pear tree that's a focal point of the yard. "It's beautiful to sit inside and look out at the garden and the tree. Or, if it's warmer, open the doors and feel the breeze," the owners say.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  Though Smith eschewed concrete for the walls, it's used for flooring and consists of 30 percent fly ash (a byproduct of coal-fired power plants).  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    Though Smith eschewed concrete for the walls, it's used for flooring and consists of 30 percent fly ash (a byproduct of coal-fired power plants).

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The built-in sofa was designed by CCS Architecture and fabricated by San Francisco-based Kroll Furniture. Barbara Vickroy, CCS's interior designer, picked the fabrics and furnishings in the home. In the foreground is an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The built-in sofa was designed by CCS Architecture and fabricated by San Francisco-based Kroll Furniture. Barbara Vickroy, CCS's interior designer, picked the fabrics and furnishings in the home. In the foreground is an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  An 80-foot-long, light-filled corridor stretches the length of the second story. Instead of artwork, the owners opted to adorn their walls with shadows that change throughout the day.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    An 80-foot-long, light-filled corridor stretches the length of the second story. Instead of artwork, the owners opted to adorn their walls with shadows that change throughout the day.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The bathroom also reflects the same attention to detail and finishing as the rest of the house.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The bathroom also reflects the same attention to detail and finishing as the rest of the house.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  Another view of the bathroom.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    Another view of the bathroom.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  In addition to photovoltaic (PV) cells, the roof houses a thermal water system that heats the domestic hot water and preheats the water for the radiant floor heating installed throughout the residence.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    In addition to photovoltaic (PV) cells, the roof houses a thermal water system that heats the domestic hot water and preheats the water for the radiant floor heating installed throughout the residence.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The yard is in the rear of the lot and provides a semi-private space for recreation. "The kids spend a lot of time in the garden," say the owners. "There is an infinite track for running around or biking, an artificial lawn where they play badminton and soccer, and a terrace where they play with hula hoops and jump ropes."  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The yard is in the rear of the lot and provides a semi-private space for recreation. "The kids spend a lot of time in the garden," say the owners. "There is an infinite track for running around or biking, an artificial lawn where they play badminton and soccer, and a terrace where they play with hula hoops and jump ropes."

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The first floor's plan. The main residence is in orange and a guesthouse/studio is in blue.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The first floor's plan. The main residence is in orange and a guesthouse/studio is in blue.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  The second floor consists of a library, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms.  Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    The second floor consists of a library, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms.

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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  Here's an overview of the landscape design.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!   Photo by: Joe Fletcher
    Here's an overview of the landscape design.

    Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

    Photo by: Joe Fletcher

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