Two Rammed-Earth Buildings Host a Sustainable Live/Work Space For a Colorado Artist
Seven years ago, in what would ordinarily be nothing more than an average museum visit, principal architect Michael Muirheid Moore admired work that would eventually spark inspiration of his own.
As he remembers it, Moore was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado, when he took note of a large mica cave installation by artist Rebecca DiDomenico. At first, that was it—after the visit, Moore got back to his responsibilities as the founder of Tres Birds Workshop. Yet the story continued several weeks later when Moore noticed movers carrying those same mica components into a storage space near his firm.
"Rebecca stopped by Tres Birds Workshop after gazing inside the studio one night," Moore explains. "We met and determined that this project was a good fit."
The project Moore and DiDomenico came up with was to build her a new art studio/residence in the nearby city of Boulder, which would soon be known as Swoon Art House.
Most importantly, the two envisioned a low-impact address that was still strong enough to withstand the area's potential floods.
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Thankfully, the basement that holds DiDomenico's archives protected the building. However, Moore decided to raise the floor a foot beyond the recommended level as extra precaution.
To make the property even more practical, the pair agreed to swap natural gas for electricity and use concrete floor plates, as well as rammed-earth walls for geothermal heating and cooling.
"We utilized the dirt that we extracted from the site for the basements, sifted out the organics, and then reused other gravelly dirt for the building's main structure," Moore says. "Rebecca and I drew the patterns of the walls over several weeks, and then Tres Birds transcribed these patterns into the formwork for the rammed earth finish."
Even though the interior's airy appearance contrasts the darker exterior, this was also a decision the team made sensibly. Since the building is used to make and display art, unobstructed natural light is best, Moore says.
In the years since Moore and DiDomenico's surprise project was completed, the studio and residency has established itself as a place where creativity and sustainability meet. It's also proof that unexpected paths can sometimes come full circle.
Architect: Michael Moore, Tres Birds Workshop