Santa Fe Mondernism in the H-Haus

"Elegant living paired with eco-friendly designs adopted from European housing standards." That's how the principals of H-Haus LLC, Santa Fe, describe their Cube-series homes.

Featuring contrasting vertical and horizontal modules, the H-Haus is stylish and designed to be as environmentally benign as possible, with super-insulated walls and roofing, solar-assist heating, operable skylights, and a catchment strategy that routes rainwater from roofs through the walls to buried cisterns to be re-used in landscaping irrigation.

The houses have a floating quality, as some walls are cantilevered beyond the building footprint. Double-height entries, wood flooring, cook's kitchen, and wraparound balconies are part of the scheme.

The biggest model, at 2,100 square feet, is the Cube 5, which H-Haus exhibited at the Cleveland Home & Garden Show in February 2006. It has two bedrooms with private balconies, a spa bath and contemporary-design plumbing fixtures, wiring for high-speed Internet, and a glass bridge between the spa and the bedrooms.

Even Cube GH, the 612-square-foot guesthouse (which is available with a 612-square-foot furniture terrace) features eco-friendly elements like thermopane windows with low-E coating, Energy Star-rated stainless-steel appliances, and a wall-hung fireplace.

What? Yes, a neat gas fireplace that hangs on the wall - like a flat-screen television with fire instead of melodrama! And they put out 14,000 BTUs.

House heating is by solar hot water and by low-voltage radiant glass. The heated glass -in four eight-foot-high panels - may be charged via a 2-kilowatt photovoltaic array and is thermostat-adjustable.

The H-Haus models are simply cool-looking. Warning: their reference to "Santa Fe style" architecture is abstract, at best. The H-Haus' symphonies of planes, blocks, slabs, steel trellises and wire fencing are similar to the modernist prefab structures championed by Dwell magazine.

H-Haus had its genesis over a couple of beers at Embudo Station a few years ago, according to principals Aaron Bohrer and Arunas Repecka. The design challenge behind Cube 1 combined sustainability and an architectural design that could be easily assembled using off-the-shelf components.

"What we're trying to do with H-Haus is look at construction times," Bohrer said. "We started with the idea of prefabrication and moved away from that. We wanted to stay away from mobile homes."

"We didn't want to see H-Haus rolling along I-25," Repecka added.

H-Haus homes are custom dwellings utilizing pre-manufactured pieces that can be assembled at the homesite, a process that reduces construction cost, waste and time.

"Some architects tell us we're not designing all the little things, the doorknobs and everything," Bohrer said. "That's true but we have no architectural fees. We've put a lot of sweat equity into the process. We've done all the legwork on the specifics and how the building goes together. The average starting cost is $180 per square foot and the relationship with a client begins with a $2,100 commitment fee. The only time we'll be on the clock is if the client wants to tweak anything like the size and the arrangement of spaces."

Bohrer earned his master's degree in architecture, including studies with Zaha Hadid, at Columbia University. After work in the New York office of I.M. Pei & Partners he founded Archaeo Architects in Santa Fe in 1996. The company designed Community Bank and a number of award-winning residential projects.

Repecka is a specialist in mechanical/HVAC engineering with projects in Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and Russia as well as in North America. His focus on systems that are economical and energy-efficient has since 2002 been trained on residential projects.

The H-Haus relies on a simple methodology, with all the plumbing in one spot, one module, for practicality and affordability. The module doubles as a shaft to draft warm air up and out, a chimney-effect principal Repecka witnessed in buildings in Yemen.

The walls are built with 1 x 7 tube steel supporting panels 7_ inches thick. The floor system is joisted, not slab-based, offering flexibility and insulation advantages.

The H-Haus is wall-dominant to reduce the amount of energy-inefficient glass, yet the interiors are bright due to the placement of windows.

Exterior-surfaces choices include stucco, corrugated metal, plaster, zinc, Corten steel, and channel glass.

"It's like a clam on the beach: rough outside and beautiful and smooth inside," Repecka said. There are all kinds of upgrades available, such as Cultured Stone siding and classier flooring and cabinets. However, the base package is already pretty fancy; it includes Ice Stone recyled glass/concrete countertops from Brooklyn, Delta lighting from Belgium, Rappgo engineered-wood flooring from Sweden, and Alno cabinets from Germany.

The architects have heard people say H-Haus looks like the Bauhaus-related projects of Walter Gropius and Mies Van der Rohe. "It goes back farther, to Viollet-le-Duc [1814-79] and his brilliant idealization that the building, or plan, should be generated from the program, which he articulated in Entretiens sur l'architecture and also the history of the house (Histoire d'une maison), although he owes a great deal to Jean Nicolas-Louis Durand's programmatic basis at the Ecole des Beaux Arts," Bohrer said in an e-mail. "The shift was away from the dictates of style of the classical system towards a more rational or analytical system. Far ahead of his time, he also suggested using manufactured components to make buildings and within 50 years, Sears Roebuck had done just that with their frame homes (wood frame had been perfected thanks in large part to fasteners such as nails!) - in advance of Gropius and gang.

"Another great mind from which the H-Haus concept draws is Andrew Jackson Downing (1850) and his 'sociologically conceived plan' and his classes of houses. Although the H-Haus idea is different, the generative planning concept leads to multiple variation. In this case, H-Haus uses the technique of construction and the modern program to evolve the assembly set and thus arrive at a rarified architectural solution."

One essential emphasis of the H-Haus program is the smaller building and a more efficient construction schedule. "The Cube 5 at 2,100 square feet is our largest building," Bohrer said. "This is all about fewer square feet, flexible space, and a high amenity, or fixtures.

"We can complete in 90 days, four months, tops, for the more complicated designs, and that compares to the national average of 6.7 months for a standard-built, 2,100-square-foot, owner-contractor home."

The team is just getting started on marketing H-Haus. The concept has seen exposure in Dwell, Innovative Home, and Desert Living magazines. H-Haus projects are ongoing in Santa Fe, Oregon, and California.

"We're trying to accommodate a smaller demographic," Bohrer said. "A lot of people moving here don't want the adobe-style houses. American lifestyles are changing and we're trying to develop a product that represents a different way of living, with energy-conscious design and a modernist aesthetic."

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