written by:
photos by:
January 16, 2009
Originally published in Modern on the Inside

In Galileo’s day, men counted their pulses to tell time. In 2 A.D., Ptolemy, who understood more about the movements of the sun and the earth than most of us do today, designed a tool called the quadrant that, by measuring heaven and earth, brought the infinite scale of the universe into the palm of the hand.

Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.
Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.
Photo by 
1 / 6
Inside the house, the speed of the planet’s rotation is indicated by the rate of the light beam’s movement over the floor and walls. When the Burkes first moved in, the speed of shifting light made them dizzy.
Inside the house, the speed of the planet’s rotation is indicated by the rate of the light beam’s movement over the floor and walls. When the Burkes first moved in, the speed of shifting light made them dizzy.
Photo by 
2 / 6
Before construction began, the site was surveyed to align the house precisely north to south along the solar axis and to ensure that the roof angle would parallel the angle of the sun at winter solstice.
Before construction began, the site was surveyed to align the house precisely north to south along the solar axis and to ensure that the roof angle would parallel the angle of the sun at winter solstice.
Photo by 
3 / 6
Since copper is a commodity, its cost fluctuates and installation can be both difficult and expensive. The Burkes bought their copper when it was at a 15-year low. For the first two weeks, the house was as shiny as a new penny, then it began to weather. “
Since copper is a commodity, its cost fluctuates and installation can be both difficult and expensive. The Burkes bought their copper when it was at a 15-year low. For the first two weeks, the house was as shiny as a new penny, then it began to weather. “It incited a local controversy,” says Carrie. “But we understood that time would prevail. Now we’re happy when people say they don’t know of a copper house on Park Street.” One possible source for copper is Una-Clad. www.unaclad.com
Photo by 
4 / 6
The stairs going up the knoll to the roof garden and to the house’s second-level entrance are made from Cor-Ten steel risers (which develop a rich, rusted patina) and filled with gravel in order to create a nonslip surface that drains well. Steel and stee
The stairs going up the knoll to the roof garden and to the house’s second-level entrance are made from Cor-Ten steel risers (which develop a rich, rusted patina) and filled with gravel in order to create a nonslip surface that drains well. Steel and steelwork by Virginia Industrial.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
Dave Lauridsen
5 / 6
The Burkes eliminated glare by minimizing the number of windows on the east and west sides of their house. On the south, though, windows are taller and offer views of trees even though the house is in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. The direct ligh
The Burkes eliminated glare by minimizing the number of windows on the east and west sides of their house. On the south, though, windows are taller and offer views of trees even though the house is in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. The direct light that enters through the flanks of the house is mediated via a sophisticated array of blinds, tints, a trellis calibrated to cut light from April through August, and several bald cypress trees that provide shade in summer but lose their leaves in winter, allowing light (and heat) to infuse the house. Baby cypress trees, about nine feet tall, should cost around $100 each at your local nursery.
Photo by 
6 / 6
Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.
Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.
Project 
Burke House

In Galileo’s day, men counted their pulses to tell time. In 2 A.D., Ptolemy, who understood more about the movements of the sun and the earth than most of us do today, designed a tool called the quadrant that, by measuring heaven and earth, brought the infinite scale of the universe into the palm of the hand. Today, a house built by Carrie and Kevin Burke brings that universal scale into their own Charlottesville, Virginia, living room.

The Burkes (both architects) call their living room an “observatory” because their home is a time-telling instrument based on ancient technologies. From the street, the modern, copper-clad structure recuses itself from a row of whitewashed Victorians while mimicking them metaphorically: The fanned point of its north roof is a counterpoint to the traditional Victorian turret, and the texture of its siding and the proportions of the windows refer saliently to the neighbors’. As the house’s copper walls weather into a mossy patina, they’ll mark the passage of time, allowing the house to recede from
view “like deep shade in a garden,” says Carrie.

Inside the house, the speed of the planet’s rotation is indicated by the rate of the light beam’s movement over the floor and walls. When the Burkes first moved in, the speed of shifting light made them dizzy.
Inside the house, the speed of the planet’s rotation is indicated by the rate of the light beam’s movement over the floor and walls. When the Burkes first moved in, the speed of shifting light made them dizzy.

The house’s primary mechanism for telling time, however, is an oculus embedded in one side of the roof through which a light beam tracks through the observatory. Forming an indoor sundial, it indicates both the hours of the day and the cycles of the season by alighting on crosshairs and lines marked on the floor with auto detailing tape. Later, the Burkes will fill incisions in the floor with powdered metal to make certain dates permanent: solstices and equinoxes; Carrie and daughter Ava’s August birthdays, when the light licks the edge of the banister; and Kevin’s birthday in January, when the beam
rests directly beneath the skylight.

Before construction began, the site was surveyed to align the house precisely north to south along the solar axis and to ensure that the roof angle would parallel the angle of the sun at winter solstice.
Before construction began, the site was surveyed to align the house precisely north to south along the solar axis and to ensure that the roof angle would parallel the angle of the sun at winter solstice.

The layout of the house evolved from the synchronization of the cycles of the family’s daily life with the cycles of the sun, and vice versa. The Burkes identified where light would and would not fall, and built the house so that they could, for instance, wake up in the cool dim of the downstairs bedrooms and ascend into the warmly lit upstairs to grind the first coffee beans of the day. They also find themselves adjusting to the light as they find it: Kevin has a particular fondness for ascending into the mornings; no matter what she is doing, Carrie can sense solar noon from her studio on the mezzanine.

Since copper is a commodity, its cost fluctuates and installation can be both difficult and expensive. The Burkes bought their copper when it was at a 15-year low. For the first two weeks, the house was as shiny as a new penny, then it began to weather. “
Since copper is a commodity, its cost fluctuates and installation can be both difficult and expensive. The Burkes bought their copper when it was at a 15-year low. For the first two weeks, the house was as shiny as a new penny, then it began to weather. “It incited a local controversy,” says Carrie. “But we understood that time would prevail. Now we’re happy when people say they don’t know of a copper house on Park Street.” One possible source for copper is Una-Clad. www.unaclad.com

Before construction began, the site was surveyed to align the house precisely north to south along the solar axis and to ensure that the roof angle would parallel the angle of the sun at winter solstice. The roof angle makes the house site-specific to an unusual degree because it is unique to its latitude at 38 degrees and 3 seconds. (In Alaska, to work as a timepiece, the roof would have to be much more shallow while in Athens, Greece, it would work in the same alignment.) Carrie calculated the locations of structural beams in the roof using sun charts and trigonometry and then translated the radial geometry of the light into the orthogonal geometry understood by her builders. “I learned to love math through this project,” she says.

The house is, in effect, a medium and laboratory for the strategic transformation of light by shaping, deflecting, filtering, and reflecting it. “Sometimes people assume that paying attention to solar cycles is almost religious, but it’s not about that,” says Carrie. “It’s actually quite mundane, in the best sense of the word.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016