Alum designs sustainable home for Navajo mom in Colorado

A single Navajo mother and her 10-year old son are living in [The Windcatcher House] ( , a new sustainable home in southwest Colorado co-designed by Mark Olsen ’07, a former Texas A&M environmental design student.

Olsen capped his graduate architecture education at the University of Colorado at Denver by designing and building the home with fellow graduate students in UCD’s Design-Build Program in conjunction with [DesignBuildBLUFF] ( , a nonprofit organization.

The 1,100 square-foot home’s centerpiece is the windcatcher, a main clerestory tower that cools the home in the hot summer months.

“The wetted media in the tower cools the air and makes it more dense, which makes it fall through the tower,” he told [Architect Colorado] ( magazine in the magazine’s fall 2011 cover story. “The height lets the air build up speed to be distributed throughout the house without the need for a blower, and we went with an open floor plan with minimal obstructions to further encourage good air flow.”

The house also includes two rammed-earth walls on its southern and western sides, primarily designed to control the home’s temperature.

“Since the primary concern was dealing with the hot summers, we chose to thermally break the walls, rather than going with a solid mass,” Olsen said. “There’s a 2-inch-thick piece of insulation sandwiched between two large masses. During construction, we would often eat lunch on the northern side of the rammed-earth walls, because it was a good 20 degrees cooler than the southern side — it was almost cold!”

The project’s story begins on page 8 in the magazine’s online [.pdf] ( .

posted November 8, 2011