Organic Meets LEED in Santa Fe

Places / June 14, 2010

John Covert Watson is an architect who works today under the umbrella of Biostructures, Inc. in Austin, Texas.

His philosophy, though, is firmly rooted in the concept of organic architecture, as taught by its first practitioner.

He was apprenticed to the Taliesin fellowship during the latter years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life. He worked with him on his Usonian houses, the Guggenheim Museum and the Marin County Civic Center.

Watson was drawn to the concept of blending sculptural forms into natural surroundings, and of having as little impact on a site as possible. His work is known for curvilinear, sensuous forms.

In a recently completed home at the base of a foothill about a mile and a half north of Santa Fe, he’s managed to merge his ideas about organic design with modern-day LEED practices – and earned Gold status in the process.

“He’d never done a green house before,” the new home’s owner said. “Melding the two concepts together was tricky, but it worked.”

The winds and the views – particularly up to the Sangre de Christo and Sandia Mountains as well as down on the city of Santa Fe – were the main concerns with the seven and a half-acre site that rests at an altitude of 7,250 feet.

The architect designed an octagonal-shaped, 1,200 square foot great room to capture all 360 degrees of the dramatic vistas. He placed portals with porches on the southeast and southwest sides of the building, and the home’s main entrance on the northeast.

“He was trying to protect us from wind gusts up to 60-65 miles per hour,” the owner said. “There are these crazy spring winds in the high desert here during the change of seasons.”

The Ponderosa pine beams supporting the ceiling were harvested from standing dead trees about 60 miles away near Los Alamos. Interior walls are American Clay plaster quarried in nearby Albuquerque. Its exteriors are of Sto, a synthetic stucco.

The one-story, 4,700 square foot home taps into the earth for heat absorption through its geothermal system, and the owner just booted up its hydronic cooling system to run water through tubes in the home’s ceilings. “It’s good in the arid high desert because there’s only eighteen to twenty percent humidity,” he said. “There’s no forced air – the heat recovery ventilation system takes the stale air out and swaps it for new.”

A bank of photovoltaic panels provides sixty percent of the home’s electricity. The payoff comes in the form of ridiculously cheap monthly costs. “Our last electric bill was fifty bucks,” he said. “Our gas bill was $12.50 – we use $1.50 in gas a month, and the rest is connection fees.”

What the client and his wife wanted was a beautiful place to spend the rest of their lives – one that was safe for their children, and healthy.

What they got was something more – a home that draws on Wright’s principles for working with nature while utilizing state-of-the-art, environmentally sensitive technologies.

“It’s an amazing structure we put together,” the owner said.

And the best of all worlds, too.

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Michael Welton

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1 Comment

on March 25, 2013

Does this usually include synthetic stucco? Albuquerque seems to be famous for that when it comes to house exteriors.

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