In Palo Alto, a Rammed-Earth House

The clients wanted sustainable.

The architect suggested rammed earth.

They called in David Easton, a guru with 40 years’ experience perfecting the technology, and got to work.

“We used soil from the foundation to make a beautiful wall, and we weren’t transporting a lot of cement,” says Cass Calder Smith, architect of the home on Cowper Street in downtown Pala Alto.  “The rammed earth is the main material that’s seen from the street.  It’s like the foundation for the house – the rest of the house floats on top.”

One of Easton’s fortes is building the forms within which a mixture of soil and concrete can be tamped down pneumatically.  The forms are made of Medium Density Overlay panels, which are coated with a smooth resin material, much like Formica.  Striations in the walls are formed by the way materials are poured into the forms.

“You get a really smooth surface,” the architect says.  “We Bondo’d the joints and sanded them, because I wanted it as seamless as possible.”

The 6,000 square-foot home, placed on a quarter-acre lot, required a courtyard with breezeway entrance, so that a visitor views the home’s garden and Callery Pear Tree before entry.

The yard is landscaped with a synthetic lawn and drought-tolerant meadow grasses.  An L-shaped interior façade with 65 feet of wood-framed, sliding glass doors maximizes the indoor-outdoor connection.  Circulation is a continuous flow that emphasizes the counterpoint between opacity and transparency.

The second floor contains a library, three bedrooms and two baths.  An 80-foot long “gallery of light” connects the bedrooms and bathrooms; its skylights and windows are designed to animate the walls with geometric shapes from washes of light and shadow.

“We wanted to create a modernist building that was also warm, authentic and real,” he says.

What they’ve created is a home that’s crisp and sharp, with soft and comforting tones, drawn from the earth itself.

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