From the Ashes

Add to
Like
Comment
Share
By Dwell and Kelly Vencill Sanchez / Published by Dwell
After a wildfire, a prefab home in California puts resilience first.

When the Tea Fire swept through parts of Santa Barbara and Montecito in the fall of 2008, more than 200 properties were destroyed. Some homeowners cut their losses and moved on, but others vowed to rebuild. One, an artist, saw it as a chance to create something new where his home once stood. San Diego architects Hector and Pamela Magnus were intrigued by the possibilities. "We were looking for ways to rebuild faster and to help a building take the brunt of a fire," says Hector. 

From the Ashes - Photo 1 of 4 - Combining a prefab steel super-structure with concrete walls and insulated metal panels, Anthrazit House in Santa Barbara was designed by architects Pamela and Hector Magnus and built in collaboration with EcoSteel."This wasn’t a traditioImage by Hector Magnus.nal Santa Barbara site with large acreage," Hector says. "It was small and steep." Expansive windows on the second floor face a park. Image by Hector Magnus.

Combining a prefab steel super-structure with concrete walls and insulated metal panels, Anthrazit House in Santa Barbara was designed by architects Pamela and Hector Magnus and built in collaboration with EcoSteel."This wasn’t a traditioImage by Hector Magnus.nal Santa Barbara site with large acreage," Hector says. "It was small and steep." Expansive windows on the second floor face a park. Image by Hector Magnus.

So began a three-way collaboration between the owner, Architects Magnus, and EcoSteel to design and build a 3,300-square-foot residence—dubbed Anthrazit House for its charcoal hue—that could withstand future conflagrations while remaining energy-efficient. The key lies in the materials: a foundation and walls made of concrete, a prefab recycled-steel frame, a standing-seam metal roof, and noncombustible insulated metal panels that envelop the exterior steel. 

From the Ashes - Photo 2 of 4 - A steel-and-glass stairway keeps things open. Structural steel contractor Russ Jones was a key player. "Wood is easily manipulated on site; you can push and shove it," Hector says. "Steel is different. It requires a steel erection team." Image by Hector Magnus.

A steel-and-glass stairway keeps things open. Structural steel contractor Russ Jones was a key player. "Wood is easily manipulated on site; you can push and shove it," Hector says. "Steel is different. It requires a steel erection team." Image by Hector Magnus.

"The construction method is a little different from that of a standard wood frame," explains Hector, who worked closely with EcoSteel, which provided the steel skeleton and insulated metal panels along with above-foundation structural engineering and construction support. "We spent more time in design because we wanted to see on paper what the final details would look like. The roof, for instance, is a super-thin plane, and we wanted to make sure it terminated correctly on the leading edge. And the exterior skin had to align properly with the windows. That’s the beauty of prefab—you can minimize field work." 

From the Ashes - Photo 3 of 4 - The house is laid out on three levels, with the main entrance leading to the top-floor kitchen, which features concrete floors, quartz counters, a refrigerator and wall oven by Electrolux, and a stainless-steel apron-front sink from Kraus. Image by Hector Magnus.

The house is laid out on three levels, with the main entrance leading to the top-floor kitchen, which features concrete floors, quartz counters, a refrigerator and wall oven by Electrolux, and a stainless-steel apron-front sink from Kraus. Image by Hector Magnus.

Connecting the steel to the foundation at just four anchor points paved the way for sweeping mountain and canyon views. "Steel allowed us to do that," Hector notes. 

EcoSteel’s founder, Joss Hudson, hopes the house inspires more steel construction in fire-prone areas. "The codes are changing," he says, "and the anticipated trend is that cities and states will slowly eliminate lumber construction altogether." 

From the Ashes - Photo 4 of 4 - Combining a prefab steel super-structure with concrete walls and insulated metal panels, Anthrazit House in Santa Barbara was designed by architects Pamela and Hector Magnus and built in collaboration with EcoSteel. Image by Hector Magnus.

Combining a prefab steel super-structure with concrete walls and insulated metal panels, Anthrazit House in Santa Barbara was designed by architects Pamela and Hector Magnus and built in collaboration with EcoSteel. Image by Hector Magnus.

With wildfires becoming a regular part of the landscape throughout the West, Hector Magnus sees the home as an optimistic expression for someone who has lost everything. "I told the owner, ‘This is your phoenix moment.’"