The entrance to Punchouse 234 features a sunken playspace. The lawn is made from synthetic turf that requires no water for maintenance.
On a quiet street in Santa Monica this past week, Marco DiMaccio Punchouse Design Group unveiled his latest architectural design, PUNCHouse 234, the new home of journalist Lisa Ling and her husband Dr. Paul Song. But as much as the home is distinguished by its celebrity owners, it also holds distinction under the more rigorous LEED Platinum rating it earned. What's more, the studio tells Core77 that it's Santa Monica's first zero emissions home.
To meet these standards, DiMaccio and his team applied a number of strategies, starting quite literally from the ground up. They relied on "100% waste diversion," namely, taking apart the previous structure and either recycling it, repurposing it for the new project or donating it—in this case, to Habitat for Humanity. Rainwater is collected to supply for irrigation, while synthetic turf eliminates the need for water entirely in large swaths of the space. Other strategies, such as solar panels, aim to provide for all the electricity needs—including for the electric BMW ActiveE parked in the back—while Angelenos' beloved air conditioning has been discarded in favor of a design that uses air flow to passively cool the home.
The Punchouse team with the new homeowners.
"To deal with contractors to get this to happen a certain way is the most challenging," noted DiMaccio, who had to maintain tight oversight on the entire process to ensure LEED compliance. "It takes an extra level of energy to monitor [contractors]," especially those drawn to the glamour of constructing a celebrity home. "The details are always a challenge."
And the details are everything. Although low energy consumption was the primary design consideration, the home is also gorgeous to behold, and I saw visitors casually running their hands on the different features and trying to determine the materials. DiMaccio took time to show me the tracking system for the sliding glass door, which few guests paused to notice. We knelt down as he explained the particulars of what made it effective, with sealed bearings to keep out the elements (and keep in heat) and a precision frame from Switzerland.
The backyard space is perfectly suited for cocktails and entertaining.
Walking around the house, I couldn't help but admire the formal decisions that paid tribute to Ling's and Song's cultural heritages, with subtle East Asian influences like a double happiness character (a symbol of marriage) and a tongue-in-cheek ball lamp at the entrance constructed out of plastic Chinese takeout boxes. When I spoke with Ling, she pointed out the extensive library, a mix of hard sciences and humanities, and the fun collection of toys and wall art that made it a home. "The Bruce Lee posters are mine," she said with a smile.
Had I walked past the home on a regular day, or even if I had entered it, I would never have guessed it was LEED Platinum. It appealed first to my eye for architectural beauty, and the chic interior and backyard make for a perfect entertaining space. The upstairs, which offers a private view over Santa Monica, is quiet and minimal, conducive to rest and intimate conversations. It's easy to forget that the home is also carbon neutral.
Although the house is certainly outside the reach of the average Angeleno, it hopefully presages more eco-minded architecture around Los Angeles, whose residents famously are more independent-minded about their homes to begin with. I asked DiMaccio about his hopes for the future of green design, especially with the construction of this high profile home. "I would hope that we stop using the term green design," he emphasized. "I don't love that terminology. I think it turns off politically unmotivated people."
Indeed, concepts of eco design resonate with those who already care about sustainability. Instead, he noted, in order to reach a broader group, it's important to highlight the financial benefits of zero emissions homes—such homes allow greater independence and, with the use of an electric car, smaller or even zero gas bills. And that's an appealing point for anybody.
"Sustainability," he said, "has to be a business model."
An Xiao Mina is an American designer strategist and researcher who recently worked on the Gwangju Design Biennale's Un-Named Design exhibition. She focuses on the role of social media and communications technologies in building communities and empowering individuals. Find her on Twitter here.