Breen Residence Ulster County, NY
2009 American Institute of Architects Award for Architectural Design
The Breen residence is a state of the art “Green” building utilizing all the sustainable strategies developed at BA. It is one of our finest and most energy-efficient buildings to date, and epitomizes the three critical aspects of sustainable buildings that are the foundations of all our work: a high performance “building envelope” (floors/walls/roof), state-of- the-art, high-efficiency building systems, and a minimally-invasive site design. In short, a better box with a super engine parked lightly on the landscape.
The architecture of the Breen Residence is the ideal “better” box. Constructed of all recycled and sustainable materials and featuring high-performance glazing on the south wall, high-efficiency spray foam insulation in all other walls and floors, “rainscreen” vented walls, and BA’s trademarked “Umbrella Roof” system for passive cooling and healthy air quality, the building envelope components of the house are the most advanced available for green residential construction. In addition to the architectural systems, the detailing of the architecture and the proportions unite the space with the surrounding landscape.
The building systems are also the most efficient available, they are a super “engine” that heats the home during the winter. A modulating temperature propane boiler is over 95% efficient and with computer controlled outdoor thermostatic controls delivers just the right heat to the radiant floor heating system for any weather. The radiant system is imbedded into high-mass concrete flooring providing a thermal mass for comfort and efficiency. Energy-recovery units maintain air quality without compromising energy efficiency. Cooling is passive, which for the northeastern United States is a goal we can all achieve. Yes, throw away those air-conditioners; this house relies on the central stair thermo-siphon and whole house fans to vent warm air out of the building as well as the overall wedge shape of the building which heightens natural air circulation. But the key to passive cooling is to avoid heat build-up on the roof and walls. BA’s trademarked “Umbrella Roof” system is specifically designed to naturally vent the unwanted heat gain through the roof areas. A building cannot be passively cooled unless the enormous heat gain generated by the roofing system is contained. The “Umbrella Roof’s radiant panel and ventilation system are essential components for passive cooling to be successful.
Finally, the structure’s size and site plan epitomize our philosophy of building smaller and laying softly on the landscape. The house is approx 1,700 square feet, yet will feel much larger through its interconnected spaces and direct connection to the exterior. The site is a steep forest covered ridge that is protected by the home’s unique foundation of cable braced steel posts. This system keeps site disturbance to an absolute minimum and allows the house to float, treehouse-like among the forest canopy. Tree removal is avoided and the forest provides summer shading of the glass walls.
Through these three basic sustainable strategies: designing the architectural envelope for efficiency and performance (a better “box”), specifying the best mechanical systems available (a better “engine”), and placing these carefully on the land with minimal site disturbance, the Breen house is beautiful and green.