In Los Angeles, a new house designed by SCI-Arc for Habitat for Humanity stands apart from its neighbours yet coexists with them in a community-boosting enterprise. The so-called IVRV House features a peaked roof dramatically sliced at the top to let sunlight into a second-storey bedroom and deck, and a deep-inset window and a door that lends its cement-board facade bold dimensionality. Perhaps most striking of all is the eco-screen that wraps the building’s sides, filtering light and air into an interior courtyard and carport while shrouding the home in privacy.
For its new owners, US Army Veteran Belete Belhu and his family, this is now home. And the innovative, affordable and sustainable residence could become a model for housing in L.A. and beyond.
SCI-Arc and Habitat first began collaborating in 2014 when the institute, one of the world’s most renowned and experimental architecture schools, began a series of design/build studios geared toward the construction of one home per academic year. The driving principles of the student-designed residences were: innovation, affordability, home-healthy building materials and sustainability.
The students weren’t simply designing a house; the project’s greater purpose is community building – LA County donated the land for the IVRV House in a bid to bolster the program’s bigger goal of erecting homes on neglected properties in order to positively impact the communities around them. If empty LA lots often signal the poverty, crime and other dire socio-political conditions that afflict a neighbourhood, filling them with family homes helps knit together a stronger social fabric.
The IVRV home’s layout exemplifies a bold experimentation. Beyond the entrance volume, the interior courtyard on one side and the carport opposite – both wrapped in the eco-screen – stretch towards the back of the home. There, the double-height kitchen leads to a backyard terrace. Above the carport, the bedrooms are arrayed along the length of the upper volume.
Most innovative of all is the eco-screen itself. Program co-ordinator Darin Johnstone, a design studio professor at SCI-Arc, recounts, “One of the many moments that stands out was a day near the end of construction where a group of students was working alongside the partner family to complete the ‘Eco-Screen’, an element designed to capture energy, clean the air and provide a secure, shaded outdoor space for the residents. The pride and joy shared by all was palpable.”
The screen incorporates many layers of functionality. Its galvanized steel substrate, which wraps the wall and roof and is bolstered by a panelized structural grid, supports a system of thin-film solar power modules. An intelligent all-in-one system, the screen also filters air through the high-density PVC foam panels, coated with pollutant-neutralizing titanium dioxide, that line the interior courtyard. It shows that a home can be a place of architectural experimentation and a platform for social good.