Project Profile: Rebecca Schnier Architecture: Feng-Shui Meets Energy Efficiency in the Berkeley Hills

It’s not everyday that a client approaches us with a request to turn a small Berkeley Hills 1930’s duplex cottage into a gracious, contemporary single-family home. The architectural brief included taking advantage of the panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, making the project as energy efficient as possible, using sustainable materials and incorporating the design directives of the client’s fengpp1-shui master.

In order to retain the positive Chi (energy flow), the feng-shui master called for a three-story, 14 foot rear addition. Stacking of functions floor to floor, window and door locations, and furniture placement were also influenced.

The parti developed as a modulated central spine stretching from the front sidewalk through the house to the spectacular Bay view at the back. As in a Japanese garden, circulation is paced by special elements along the way. Corten steel planters, a brush-hammered granite accent stair tread, built-in seating, art niches, varied ceilings heights and juxtaposed wood soffits articulate thresholds.

Interior walls and separations were minimized to provide a sense of openness and to maximize natural light and views. Prominently on display, the framed Golden Gate view, with its changing light and fog, acts as a kinetic art piece. At a more intimate level, carefully considered interior and exterior windows align above the stairway, allowing for a view from the master shower out to a mature loquat tree at the front of the house.

To minimize energy usage, a thermal solar system with a recirculating pump and heat recovery ventilators were installed. The system increases healthy indoor air quality and mitigates energy usage for the domestic hot water and the radiant floor heating. Photo voltaic panels supply electricity. Substantial insulation and careful window placement decrease requirements for heating and cooling.

On the exterior, thin aluminum plate awnings accentuate the cubist composition. At the front elevation the recessed windows and metal siding create interesting readings of scale.


Cat Chang, landscape designer, associated on the project

Photographer: Pamela Palma

General Contractor: Breska Associates, Inc.

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