Five Experiments

Five Experiments

Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl Architects has broken ground on an experimental project in Rhinebeck, New York, adjacent to the architect’s Tspace art gallery. Known as “Explorations of IN,” or Ex of In, it is a 918-square-foot guesthouse that attempts to push the boundaries of architecture in terms of its spatial qualities, programmatic arrangement, use of technology, energy efficiency, and materiality.

Spatially the house has been designed to serve as an alternative to modernist suburban homes that extend into the landscape. It is sited toward the center of a 28-acre site—a nature preserve that might otherwise have been divided into as many as five development parcels. The house’s geometry is formed from spherical spaces intersecting with tesseract trapezoids. The result is that rather than giving the user an experience of the surrounding natural landscape through cantilevers and transparent walls of glass, the house seeks to impress with the novelty of its own varied interior volumes.

The program is also unconventional in its arrangement of spaces. The house is composed of one room that contains a kitchen at its center. Staggered levels flowing off that space offer varying degrees of privacy. The hope is that such a plan will create alternative patterns of use.


Much of the house is being prefabricated, most notably the spherical elements. Sections large enough to push the boundaries of the technology are being CNC milled from laminated plywood in Walla Walla, Washington, and then shipped to site for assembly. The sections will include integrally cut window jambs. “Where you see big circular cuts, there will be no separate hardware for the windows,” Steven Holl told AN. “Onsite we can simply sink the low-e glass into the slot that comes with the CNC cut piece.”

The little house will also attempt to operate without connecting to the electrical grid. Geothermal wells will feed into radiant slabs for heating and cooling. Solar photovoltaic arrays will feed into one or two Tesla “Powerwall” batteries. The architects are hoping these systems are enough to keep the building energy independent while providing a reasonable amount of comfort and convenience.


The selection of materials also attempts to blaze some trails. The superstructure is composed primarily of a super-insulated plywood diaphragm system that eliminates the use of steel and its related carbon content. The building envelope is composed of recycled Poraver glass mixed with Japanese Shikkui lime plaster, a material that has been used for as many as 1,000 years. And finally, all of the light fixtures are being made in Holl’s office from PLA cornstarch-based bioplastic and will feature LED sources.

Construction is underway now and completion is scheduled for May 2016. Holl plans to operate the house off of the grid for the first year to see how it goes. “It’s an experiment,” he said. “If it doesn’t work we can go back out and fix it.”