Two Rammed-Earth Buildings Host a Sustainable Live/Work Space For a Colorado Artist

Two Rammed-Earth Buildings Host a Sustainable Live/Work Space For a Colorado Artist

By Kelly Dawson
Serving as an art studio/residence for artist Rebecca DiDomenico, Swoon Art House has been built from 100-percent renewable resources.

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. 

The two buildings are entirely made of renewable resources, which is best exemplified by its 30-inch-thick walls made of rammed earth. The first building serves as DiDomenico's residence, while the second is a 7,000-square-foot open space for her to create her artwork. 

"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.

Thanks to expansive glass windows, natural light fills the space and provides an open, airy vibe.

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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"The entire site is located within the FEMA 100-year flood zone, so the design of the foundation's water management and dewatering approach was critical to the success of developing it," says Moore. "All of this was tested in the fall of 2013 when Boulder received 18 inches of rain in 36 hours."

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. 

"The interior is primarily white to move daylight evenly throughout the primary spaces," Moore explains.

"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." 

The circle, a classic artistic and symbolic figure, can be spotted throughout the property. 

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.   

"The photovoltaic car port provides just enough electricity to run the geothermal pumps and  compressor, as well as operate the buildings LED night lighting and all-electric kitchen," Moore describes.

Project Credits:

Architect: Michael Moore, Tres Birds Workshop


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