S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
Millions of years ago, the volcanoes of Sonoma Valley spewed hot magma across the landscape. As the lava quickly cooled, the eruption’s gases became trapped, forming porous cavities instead of crystallizing into dense stone. In 2017, fire transformed this landscape again; the devastating Nuns Fire stormed through, revealing the ancient igneous rocks still strewn across the burnt yet strangely beautiful and resilient landscape.
These blackened rocks —rhyolite, basalt, andesite, and pumice—inspired the design of this 816 SF accessory dwelling on an otherwise open 40-acre site. The project sits as another ‘dot’ in the open landscape, and references the resiliency of the blackened rocks, using inherently fire-resistant materials: cementitious stucco, standing-seam metal, and blackened cedar siding in the tradition of the Shou Sugi Ban. The latter is both a conceptual nod to the process of volcanic rock formation and practical strategy for fire protection.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the project’s small scale and basic functions, every detail counts. It is a simple pavilion set along a dense service core. But the uncanny feeling of lightness in the dark massive roof is the critical motif for the project. We treated the structure as a sculptural object, like an igneous rock, surprising in its lightness despite all appearances.
The project creates a small, but powerful, mark in this increasingly fire-threatened landscape –an architecture that treads lightly but with resilience on this fragile land. Beyond the code required measures of sustainability, this project embraces these goals at an even more fundamental level. Most critically, this is a fully functional home for a small family with a 816 SF footprint on a 40-acre site; certainly, a prime measure of sustainable building is building as little as possible. Each material was selected for its low-environmental impact —whether bathroom tile and species of wood, or building systems, including solar power and an off-grid well and septic system.
Openings are maximized all around the architecture to eliminate built thresholds, blurring boundaries between interior space and site, even interior thresholds between spaces are minimized to strengthen the connection with the outdoors, and efficiency with programing spaces. Every space has multiple functions, kids’ bunkbeds share space with the pantry and laundry, there is just one bathroom, and the main bedroom is also the living room. The project also completely preserves the existing landscape’s flora and fauna, aiming to have the most minimal disturbance on the local ecosystem.