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2018 MCHAP

Square House

David Leven and Stella Betts, LEVENBETTS

Stone Ridge, NY, USA

June 2016


David Leven and Stella Betts, LEVENBETTS


Nat Oppenheimer, Silman (Structural Engineer) Marc Peter Keane (Landscape Architect) Eric Glasser & Company (General Contractor )


Andrew Zuckerman and Nicole Bergen


Naho Kubota


The Square House is a 43’ x 43’ house designed around a very simple concept: that architecture can completely engage landscape not just through its apertures but from its organizational basis and its approach to what it means to be inside and outside. The house has no front door, no back door, and no formal entry. Rather the house is conceived as a series of rooms that can be accessed directly from outside creating a fluid relationship between interior and exterior. The house also has no windows, only doors. These apertures open onto a series of outdoor spaces such as a moss garden, a wood deck with adjacent sculpture garden, a sloped wooded space and a bermed lawn. The roof is also activated as a viewing platform (from which to see the surrounding woods and stream) and elevated raised bed vegetable and flower garden. The square plan reinforces a non-hierarchical informal organization while still allowing each face of the building to offer a different experience of the landscape and light.


Square house, located in upstate New York, is an 1,850 SF house set in a sloped clearing in a wooded landscape. The house is designed to be a place of rest in the forest away from the city. Centered around openness to the outdoors, the house allows the inhabitants to be both in the house and in the forest and garden at the same time. The central objective of Square House is: less house, more nature. The house responds to the landscape by engaging the slope, the surrounding tall trees, a stream farther down and far and near views. A direct experience with this landscape - from within and without through a series of large and small apertures and a stepped section - formed the impetus for the project. Large apertures occur at public spaces and tall narrow apertures are found in the private spaces. Following the slope of the landscape the house steps down from 8’-6’ floor to ceiling in the upper bathing area to 10’-6” at the entry. The bath and a sunken living area drop farther into the section at the upper and lower portions of the house.


The material approach maximizes the sculptural and textural opportunities of cast concrete allowing the building to sit in the landscape and become an integrated part of its site. The material challenges the house type and its domestic program by acting as a both a massive threshold and a permeable surface through which domestic space and nature can co-mingle. The house’s sustainable approach is non-technological. Square House heats with the large fireplace and hot water radiant heating cast into the concrete slab. It has no air conditioning thereby using very little energy. Instead the house utilizes the thermal mass of south shaded concrete (calibrated to allow in only winter sun) and uses very little energy. With doors at each room, the house can be easily cooled through cross ventilation. Through these choreographed energy strategies the house reduces its carbon footprint and is based on the principal of getting back to basics: back to nature!

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