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2016 MCHAP

Museum of Outdoor Arts Element House

MOS Architects, Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample

Anton Chico, Las Vegas, NV, USA

May 2015


Michael Meredith / MOS Architects Hilary Sample / MOS Architects


Edward Stanley / Edward Stanley Engineers (Structural Engineer) Paul Stoller / Atelier Ten (Climate Engineer)


Cynthia Madden Leitner / Museum of Outdoor Arts


Florian Holzherr


One of the objectives of the project was to develop a prototype for an off the grid house that was to be used to collect and analyze performance data to tweak existing sustainability systems and eventually produce a more efficient “production” unit that could be licensed to home builders, individuals, or particular clients. In this sense, and beyond its unique relationship with the landscape and Charles Ross’s land art piece, the Museum of Outdoor Arts Element House, rethinks domestic space. A house is first an idea of what it is to occupy a house. As form is given to the idea, the notion of house acquires meanings. The provision of spaces for living inevitably describes the life that will be there. The MOA Element House is a complete house composed of a living-room, a kitchen, a dining-room, one bathroom and three bedrooms. In the MOA Element House the vernacular language of the traditional gabled home and chimney is transformed through the aggregation of their figures. Aspects of the house are driven by energy performance factors, such as passive systems for heating and cooling, including its many porches and solar chimneys which allow for ventilation. Other aspects are driven by spatial and aesthetic factors, the image of a house, and the intertwined relationship between interior and exterior.


The Museum of Outdoor Arts was interested in designing an off the grid, prototypical house that could be used as a guest house and visitor center for Charles Ross’s Star Axis earthwork, which is located in a remote area of the New Mexico desert. In spite of the proximity to the land art project, one is strategically not visible from the other. The organization of the house is based on an expandable geometric system of growth, radiating and aggregating outward, one module after another. A decentralized field of solar chimney volumes perforates the roof, and replaces the traditional solid mass of the domestic hearth. The Element House (EH) does not have a front door; the building can be accessed from all sides. In plan, the geometry of the five modules is reduced to a triangle as it is structurally efficient. The profile shape is a rounded continuous exterior cladding fabricated of raw aluminum shingles with a small air gap between the shingles and structure. The continuous interlocking cladding works as a “heat-sink” or passive heat exchanger to distribute solar radiation over the entire surface of the house from the hot side to the cooler, shaded side, reducing heat gain and the need for air conditioning, similar to how computers components work to reduce and distribute heat.


The Museum of Outdoor Arts Element House is designed to operate independently of public utilities by integrating passive systems and on-site energy generation. Using simple sustainable building practices to increase environmental performance, everything is stripped down to basic components..Beyond providing a place to stay, the Museum wanted to create a positive off the grid living experience that could inspire visitors to reduce their own consumption knowing they would not have to give up modern conveniences. Using passive sustainable strategies, on-site energy generation, and novel construction systems, the Element House is indeed a completely autonomous building that does not sacrifice quality of living or design. It is built using a state of the art Structural Insulated Panel System (SIPS) for improved energy efficiency, fast construction and reduced construction waste. A system of solar chimneys and porches allow for efficient passive cooling in the space. The modularity of the design also allows for rapid design adaptability and expansion possibilities as the project moves from prototype to product. There is a well, septic system, and solar panels to provide the energy and infrastructure for living. The project aims to inspire and showcase that low energy consumption and contemporary design are not mutually exclusive.

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