Disappear Retreat is a transparent, stargazing, triple-zero building, dissolving the impact on the environment physically and aesthetically. This compact, prefabricated, off-grid dwelling offers an affordable, minimalist lifestyle in resources, cost, and design. The high-performance enclosure meets the Passive House Standard and will pursue Living Building Challenge certification, the two most rigorous environmental targets in the world. The 83 sqft building requires no active heating or cooling systems and has a peak heating load of just 100 watts (1 light bulb) in the extreme cold of northern Minnesota. It performs similarly well in cold climates from Seattle to Buffalo and Chicago to Calgary. This groundbreaking design by the architecture firm COULSON strives for a paradigm shift, inspiring the public and AEC industry that low-tech, sustainable building is attainable now without sacrificing aesthetic freedom.
Scattered amongst the boreal forest near Grand Marais, Minnesota like a family of spotted mushrooms, the first prototype buildings will form a Retreat Center offering a non-profit residency program to artistic and scientific professionals, public outreach on sustainable building and climate change, and overnight stays for those interested in test-driving the design. Visitors will become attune to resource use and the naturally integrated sustenance from the earth and sun and gain creative rejuvenation and inspiration from the landscape. Prototype construction is underway, Spring/Summer 2018, and will undergo rigorous testing at this site before launching into production and available to the public in 2019.
Stargazing under a dazzling night sky, hiking in the luscious tapestry of the boreal forest, feeling a primordial desire to insinuate oneself into this nourishing place with a transparent design where the universe overhead and surrounding ecosystems press close. Retreat is quiet in scale and materials, reflecting the identity of the site in its mirrored glass (transparent ultraviolet color prevents animal collision) and the grey weathered wood blending with rock and trees. Three Retreat models have identical enclosures and alternative interiors. Bed+Bath has built-in sofa/bed with storage, toilet, sink, shower, refrigerator, and induction cooktop. Basic model is a flexible open plan for art, music, meditation, office, and living space. Sauna model has built-in benches and sauna heater. The mobile design fits on a standard trailer, has minimal impact on the land, and is adaptable to changes in climate, ownership, function, and economics.
Disappear Retreat is a zero-energy, zero-waste, zero-water facility. Using a passive design approach of super-insulation, air tightness, thermal bridge-free details, compact form, winter passive solar, and summer shading the heating load is reduced by 95%, eliminating the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems, and the energy demand is reduced by 86% before any renewable energy is applied. This allows a very tiny photovoltaic system seamlessly integrated into the south glass wall to achieve positive-energy. An integrated plumbing system consists of grey, black, and potable water tanks, similar to an RV. The Shed houses composting and rainwater treatment systems to handle waste and water from multiple Retreat structures on-site and has a photovoltaic system for electric vehicle charging. Buildings are fully assembled in factory.
Disappear Retreat integrates these low-tech solutions and components into an almost invisible state, it’s not obvious it is a green building. The design is light, transparent, and seamlessly connected to the surroundings. It gives the feeling of living outdoors. It’s this attentive care in merging design with performance that is unique. The innovation is smart integration and rigorous energy modeling.
Today we have the components needed for simple, affordable, low-energy building without sacrificing aesthetics. Disappear Retreat strives to change the perception of sustainable design and connect with new audiences. Its small size makes it approachable, understandable, and transportable, maximizing public education value, while its low-tech strategies are transferrable to other scales, solutions, and locations.
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DISAPPEAR RETREAT dissolves the ecological footprint and provides seamless living with nature. Imagine it is -25˚F on a typical winter morning in northern Minnesota, yet no heating is required. Reducing the heating load by 95% using passive methods is a critical strategy to achieve zero-energy. A minimalist palette and layout keeps the focus on the beautiful surroundings, offering a meditative experience. This model has a built-in bed/sofa with storage, toilet, sink, shower, and refrigerator drawer.
DISAPPEAR RETREAT integrates the components for triple-zero performance into an almost invisible, ethereal state. The design is light, transparent, and connected to the surroundings, dissolving into the landscape where the building form is compact and the glass takes on the identity of the site in its mirrored reflections (transparent ultraviolet color prevents animal collision). A spotted pattern of thin-film PV in the south glass wall generates all the energy needs from the sun and camouflages the building amongst the trees like a quiet forest animal. Weathered wood softens the design and blends with the landscape. As evening approaches the clear glass roof emits a warm, welcoming glow.
"Press close bare-bosom'd night - press close magnetic nourishing night! Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!" -Walt Whitman, Song of Myself. The vision for DISAPPEAR RETREAT came under the night sky viewing a psychedelic show of northern lights and imagining a small, self-sufficient retreat with a glass roof where the universe overhead and surrounding ecosystems press close, where one feels connected to the planet and can sleep under the dazzling stars and dream with eyes open.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." -Henry David Thoreau. Stargazing under a dazzling night sky, hiking in the luscious tapestry of the boreal forest, feeling a primordial desire to insinuate oneself into this nourishing place with a transparent design that lives lightly on the earth without sacrificing comfort or beauty. The living essentials are integrated into a prefab, off-grid dwelling providing a minimalist lifestyle in resources, cost, and aesthetics.
“You lose consciousness of your own separate existence. You bend with the landscape, and become part and parcel with nature.” -John Muir. Melting into the landscape with every breath, the BASIC model open plan provides a contemplative, adaptable space for exercise, meditation, and yoga. Healthy indoor air quality is achieved with a pair of thru-wall ERV (energy recovery ventilator) discreetly positioned above the north door, providing continuous, balanced, and filtered fresh air and exhaust with minimal impact on sound, energy, or heat loss (heat recovery efficiency 90%). The door can be open to expand the interior space and utilize natural ventilation. An integrated retractable insect screen keeps bugs out without effecting the view.
The BASIC model used as a music studio where immersion in nature recharges the mind and creativity allowing occupants to disappear into their work and the landscape. DISAPPEAR RETREAT has a neutral palette of only three finish materials, creating a zen atmosphere that emphasizes the exterior views and increases the perceived sense of space as the materials flow seamlessly from interior to exterior and from floor to wall to roof.
From the exterior the design disappears in the landscape like a chameleon, its photovoltaic spots and reflective glass merge with the surroundings for a quiet and surreal sense of place. Alone in the landscape, all the rules dissolve. One's sense of time, order, and sequence are transformed. "Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" -Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. Strangeness is essential to creativity. All the limitations that come from familiarity are gone and everything becomes a possibility.
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." -Leonardo da Vinci. The BASIC model used as an artist studio where living lightly without boundaries expands ideas and creativity. It has a flexible open plan for art, music, meditation, office, and living space adaptable to future needs. The upholstered wall can be used for pin-up of inspirations/reference images/studies/art display.
"I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard." -Sigurd Olson. DISAPPEAR RETREAT provides a lightness in mind, resources, and details with all essentials and systems seamlessly integrated allowing the surrounding nature to be the focus, giving the feeling of living outdoors. With the door open the BED+BATH model is expanded, natural ventilation is utilized, and an integrated retractable screen keeps pests out.
"Look at the landscape and see yourself, a sacred connection and reflection - what does it reveal?" -John O'Donohue. The SAUNA model has integrated wood benches and stainless steel basket holding stones and concealed electric heating element. The majority of heating can be provided naturally by passive solar.
RETREAT has three models with identical enclosures and alternative interior layouts. BED+BATH has built-in sofa/bed with storage, toilet, sink, shower, refrigerator, and induction cooktop. BASIC model is flexible open plan for art, music, meditation, office, and living space. SAUNA model has built-in benches and sauna heater.
A thin-film photovoltaic system is integrated into the south facing glass wall, east and west walls are reflective glass with transparent ultraviolet color to prevent animal collision, and the north wall and door is finished in a reclaimed weathered wood that softens the design and blends with the natural grey in the rocks and trees.
RETREAT integrates low-tech components widely available today into a factory-assembled enclosure that uses the passive design approach of super-insulation, air tightness, thermal bridge-free details, compact form, winter passive solar, and summer shading to achieve deep energy reductions. R-values range from 32 at the glass walls and roof to 87 at the floor. The materials have very high insulation value with minimum thickness: Triple-pane insulated glass units; Aerogel Thermal Wrap at shades; VIPs (vacuum insulated panels) at floor and walls.
Scattered amongst the boreal forest near Grand Marais, Minnesota like a family of spotted mushrooms, the first prototype buildings will form a Retreat Center offering a non-profit residency program to artistic and scientific professionals. Visitors become attune to resource use and the naturally integrated sustenance from the earth and sun and gain creative rejuvenation and inspiration from the landscape. Prototype construction is underway, Spring/Summer 2018, and will undergo rigorous testing and evaluation at this site before launching into production in 2019.
All RETREAT locations will have a custom site and climate evaluation. An ideal site is at the edge of a tree clearing to maximize solar energy, maximize winter passive solar, and minimize summer heat gain with leafed-out deciduous trees.
RETREAT uses a conservation-first, passive design approach reducing the site energy demand by 86% and the peak heating load to just 100 watts (1 light bulb), so the sun can provide all the energy needs with the small integrated photovoltaic system on the south wall.
RETREAT, in combination with the SHED model, achieves a zero-water and zero-waste facility with a composting system, a rainwater harvesting system, and greywater reuse.
SHED provides waste and water systems for multiple RETREAT buildings. Integrated photovoltaic system connects to electric vehicle charging station. Bikes, kayak, recycling and waste bins, and maintenance tools can be stored here and it is an ideal place for winter gardening.