Architect: Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS
Location: Star Axis, Las Vegas, New Mexico
Element House is isolated in the New Mexican desert and stands as a unique case for sustainable design. Commissioned and built by the Museum of Outdoor Arts (MOA) and designed by Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS, Element House serves as the guest house for artist Charles Ross’ 11-story sculptural observatory, Star Axis. Landscaping is currently underway, and the house is scheduled to open later this year.
The house is optimized to collect and analyze data concerning its performance and usage, and records the energy and water consumption in order to make them more efficient over time. The house is intended to become a production unit, with construction drawings publicly available, and the data generated by guests will be used to modify its default settings in the future. It also employs several sustainable systems, including solar chimneys and intelligent placement of windows to prevent excess heat or cold. During the summer, the interior receives very little direct sunlight, while in the winter, sunlight makes its way through the entire house.
The house’s plan loosely takes its shape from the fibonacci sequence, as a nod to the natural organisms that surround the site that can spiral into larger forms. In Anyone Corporation’s Log Journal, Meredith wrote of the design, “The roof system is a cluster of childish delineations of a generic house that give a vernacular shape, quote unquote, to the architecture.” The repetitive nature of recognizable housing units is akin to Herzog and de Meuron’s VitraHaus in Germany.
The architects have likened its material aesthetics to the documentation of NASA desert tests from the mid 1960s, which is evidenced by the aluminum-clad appearance of the building as a whole. It seems to hover above the ground due to the chamfered underside, and appears to have arbitrarily dropped onto its site, providing guests with an off-the-grid experience.
Inside, Element House is 1,543 square feet and provides floor-to-ceiling views of the desert landscape and a hint of Star Axis. Though the outside appears to house several small rooms, the interior is actually made up of a very large, open living room and five bedrooms.
While many architects feel encumbered by the role sustainability plays in their designs, the MOS architects saw it as a welcome challenge that arguably led to their most stunning building to date.