Team sets a sustainable standard


Three main themes come out of this Sante Fe project: collaboration, setting a standard and respect. And these themes are not mentioned casually. They define the success of this project that took nearly three years to complete because of its size and complexity.

There are so many interesting features of this house that it’s difficult to pinpoint one as more important than another. The best way to describe it is a truly sustainable house with homeowners, architect and builder going 100 percent in on this type of design. And not just sustainable on the surface but in the terms that one of the biggest goals of the project was to build a home that set a guideline and standard of building and designing a sustainable home.

The home is 26,000 sq. ft. and might raise eyebrows to those who consider sustainable building as only a small house. “Any building of any type or size can be green. Green has nothing to do with the size if used correctly. This is a larger than traditional house because it has a public entertaining side and private residential side,” says Tim Blonkvist, FAIA, LEED-AP, founding design principal, Overland Partners Architects, San Antonio, Texas.

The size of the home was also a major concern for the community. “We made a formal presentation to the private interest groups, showed them what we were doing and all the sustainable features,” Blonkvist says. “The conclusion by the local architects and legal community is that it should be built as a good example of building sustainable.”

The homeowners are very philanthropic so they wanted an area of the house that would accommodate 200-300 person events. This also drove the outdoor design with covered patios. Blonkvist and his team took a holistic approach to the sustainable design of this house, which he says is the only way to design sustainably.

Sustainable design

The home was orientated for passive solar design, as well as to take advantage of neighboring views. Actually, the homeowner specifically asked for the views to be the framed artwork in the house. “The client was very interested in certain places on the site that had views of surrounding landscape. We built platforms on the site that he felt the best views of the landscape would be,” Blonkvist says. “Based on that, we designed around capturing 360 degree views.” It captures views of Santa Fe to the south, a ski basin to the north, a watershed to the east and the city of Los Alamos to the west.

“We didn’t want to disturb the hilltop so we integrated it into the hill and dug down into the hillside. A third of the house is in the ground and steps down to provide views,” Blonkvist says. “The rooftop is planted with landscaping so it integrates into the site and provides habitat.”

The landscaping was actually one of the biggest challenges in this project. Two different landscape architects were used: one for hardscape and another for landscape. “Unfortunately the hardscape architect died during the construction of the project so we had to take it over, become educated and finish it,” Blonkvist says. “The local landscape architect moved to Hawaii before we installed the landscaping so we were left to one of company’s other landscapers.”

In addition, the original landscaper chose vegetation that wouldn’t grow in for five years which is not what the homeowner wanted. The team had to rework the landscaping so it was already grown in per the homeowner request. The rooftop also includes a rainwater harvesting system.

Another major consideration during the construction was removing the rocks on the site. Rocks and boulders were crushed onsite and used on walkways throughout the house as well as in the landscaping. “The site was mostly solid and decomposing granite so we had about a year of excavation. And we couldn’t blast because we were in an established neighborhood,” says David Campbell, general superintendent, J.M. Evans Construction, Santa Fe, N. M.

Other major features in the house include a solar water heating system, gray water retrieval system and an air filtration system in the underground garage. “The 12-car garage has a completely separate mechanical system and has an evacuation return air that sucks the air and carbon monoxide out of the garage into a filtration system then out into the atmosphere,” Blonkvist says.

Team work

This house includes many non-mainstream sustainable systems and features which created a learning curve for the homeowners. “The homeowners were already predisposed to wanting to be very environmentally friendly. They wanted anything that they built to be a prototype of how to build sustainably. Their attitude was wonderful but their knowledgebase wasn’t very extensive,” Blonkvist adds.

Blonkvist, Campbell and their teams all were the real solution to walking through the homeowners through the selection process, and creating a sustainable home of this size. “The learning curve was simplified to a large degree because of the collaboration. It really was a team effort,” Campbell adds. “The level of collaboration isn’t as high as we’d like it to be in the business but this was like a family.”

After speaking with both Blonkvist and Campbell it was very clear the biggest reason this project was a success was because of the collaboration between everyone and the high regard they have for one another. “This was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us and a lot of people involved. There were gracious clients and a great team, and because it went on for so long, such great relationships were forged,” Campbell says.

It is very important to Blonkvist that his whole team gets recognition for their work on this project. “To give credit to one person is an oxymoron and the antithesis of what we do,” he says. “I am proud of the people in my office who worked on the project: Fernando Ortega, AIA, LEED-AP; Jim Shelton, AIA, LEED-AP; Cheryl Ragan, LEED-AP; Rebecca Schenker, AIA, LEED-AP; and Patrick Winn, LEED-AP.

“Our company is called Overland so that we would allow people to participate in our firm, be included and respect their contributions. We must work together as a team to achieve success.”

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