The Autonomy House
Autonomy is defined as the state of being independent, free, and self-directing. The Autonomy House is designed to operate independently from all traditional public utility services. It is a self-sufficient structure designed mainly as recreational or vacation home, while also having the capability to function as a permanent, year-round residence in our arid desert environment. Environmental technologies and renewable energy combine to allow the user to live grid free in a place of their choosing without having to give up any modern comforts. Careful integration of accessibility and age-in-place considerations assist in creating a home that can be enjoyed for many years during any stage of life.
A Walk Through the Autonomy House
Approached from the North, Autonomy House beckons the visitor to its entrance with subtle vegetation and the sound of water trickling over stone. The journey begins by ascending into a narrow space of light and shadow, which creates an ethereal feeling, the building structure seemingly dissolving in the dappled light coming through the perforated screen enclosing the approach walkway. The effect is reminiscent of the quality of light one experiences while standing beneath a native mesquite tree canopy. As the visitor proceeds up into this space and turns the first corner, the passage continues to narrow. Looking ahead toward the end of this section, the visitor is drawn by the promise of conclusion which, in fact, is not an end to the journey but instead a delightful intersection of open landscape views to the right, while to the left this cool, shaded space is terminated by a shallow pool, the source of the bubbling water first noted upon approaching the house. As the visitor turns to approach the water for closer inspection, the threshold and termination of the journey is finally revealed along one wall of this unexpected space. Once through the door, the visitor becomes cognizant of the fact that the entry sequence was only one of many unanticipated experiences that the Autonomy House will provide during their tenure.
Upon passing through the door, the house opens up dramatically, revealing an open, airy, multifunctional space, ideally suited to an active lifestyle that lends itself to entertaining guests, while maximizing the apparent spaciousness of the design. A visitor will immediately appreciate how the house is flooded with natural light, while carefully controlling glare and the heat gain associated with poorly-positioned windows. More than virtually any other climate, the deserts of the southwestern United States demand consideration of window position, and the Autonomy House demonstrates that careful design allows for abundant daylight, while preventing excess heat gain.
Las Vegas is often called “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” and the Autonomy House responds to this context in several ways. The main living areas are perfectly suited to entertaining, with a flexible design that responds to the occupants’ needs. A large-format screen can be lowered from the ceiling, allowing one to have a big-screen movie experience in your own home. The kitchen is organized for efficient food preparation, while allowing the ‘chef’ to be a part of the action. The shelving along the living space’s north wall conceals an expandable dining table and seating area, which can be stored during a movie night, or extended for a Thanksgiving meal.
During much of the year, the Mohave Desert can be quite comfortable, if the house is designed in a manner that responds to its particularities. Many people are attracted to the desert due to its mild winters; its spring and fall are ideal for outdoor entertaining. The harsh light and heat of the summer can be mitigated by reducing the amount of direct sunlight that penetrates outdoor patios and courtyards. The Autonomy House responds to these conditions by bending its form around the western edge of its patio, protecting this space from the western sun. It also extends the aforementioned perforated screening overhead, dramatically reducing the intensity of the summer sun, while allowing it to escape at night. Metal surfaces heat up quickly during the day, but also cool rapidly once the sun sets, allowing these outdoor spaces to be far more comfortable during summer evenings than would be possible using heavier, solid materials that would trap the heat, making outdoor spaces unlivable. The screen pattern, while recalling the aforementioned mesquite, also responds to seasonal differences; the pattern will be more open at its southern edges, admitting more low-angle winter sunlight, becoming denser as it moves northward to exclude summer sunlight. The eastern edge of the patio opens up to a seating area, which allows one to experience the powerful landscapes that draw people to the desert, while at night the space is open to the starry sky.
As one moves toward the private areas of the house, one discovers the bathroom, which is enclosed using an amber-colored GFRP wall material. This material causes the user to be bathed in a warmth similar to the first rays of sunlight, without having to expose the homeowner to excessive solar gain. At night, the resonant glow this space gives off contrasts with the cool blues & grays of the rest of the building, creating a balancing effect.
Architecture has sometimes been defined as the creation of memorable experiences. The Autonomy House is intended to provide opportunities for memorable experiences, and to allow its occupants to bask in the grandeur of the Mojave Desert.