Keeping It Rural
By R. Tyler King
Although Copeland Casati, the president of Green Modern Kits, says that her idea of “livin’ it” is to do less, the Casa Ti prototype proves that doing less actually takes doing more—initially, at least.
In collaboration with design firms across the nation, Casati has developed three plans for prefabricated house kits. David Day Architect from Charlottesville, Va. designed Green Modern Kits, for which Casa Ti is the prototype; Gelotte Hommas out of Seattle designed the Green Cottage Kits, and Techtonics of D.C. designed the Green Cabin Kits. The plant closest to a given site will produce the house kit, which Casati says, “Is not only environmentally friendly but it also opens up a network of local contractors.”
Casa Ti is located in Pamplin City, Va., a small agricultural community in central Virginia. “Our journey began with land,” says Casati’s husband, Christoph. While living in a 1960s camper on site, the couple’s observations determined the best placement of the house, and how to employ garden irrigation systems, rainwater collection, and passive solar energy.
The exterior dons a refined industrial language with corrugated metal sheathing on simple rectangular volumes. In contrast, its interior is left unabashedly spare, revealing an extremely honest treatment of materiality with recycled gymnasium floorboards and plywood covering the walls.
The house does not attempt to disguise the fact that it arrived in parts on a tractor-trailer at first blush. But, this is no jab, because the interior and the exterior work within the evolving pre-fab market.
“The house kit is made to give you the bare bones of gorgeous design with energy efficiency,” says Copeland Casati. Casa Ti is so bare bones that its systems are not even in place.
“It is very much theory at this point,” says Christoph Casati. “But, we can actually comment on how the house performs,” he reports, based on the envelope’s preliminary results.
For instance, the Casatis know that when it is 11 degrees outside, the lowest temperature inside the house will be 45 degrees. So, at the same time, it is not entirely true to say that systems are absent. The home’s very placement on the lot in relationship to the sun utilizes passive solar energy. Once the systems are implemented, radiant heat will compensate.
“We’re probably pushing the envelope far because we want to live off-grid. That means that you have to change your power consumption—your behavior,” says Christoph Casati.
As of now, the Casatis are interested in keeping their experiment rural. “We’re not really interested in doing urban infill in terms of townhouses for small lots. You need a very specific lot to make it successful.” However, the narrow two-story “R-1 Residential” plan, designed by Morgan Pierce from Grace Street San Francisco does seem to address this problem of building sustainably on-grid.
Aside from how Casa Ti will work as a more efficient machine for living, it advocates a lifestyle. “We’ve reduced amenities so that as much space as possible is for living together. The architect David Day and I both believe that bedrooms are for sleeping. And really, all you need is one bathroom.” But, the drawings can be adjusted, as long as the vision of the architect is maintained, which means no 10,000 sq. ft. McMansions.
Even the furniture becomes part of the discussion about what’s functional and environmentally friendly at the same time. You will not see shiny Barcelona Chairs here, but, second-hand mid-century furniture and other thrift store finds.
At the open house on April 10, reactions ranged from the inquisitive—“What is a good sourcebook on radiant heat?”—to the perplexed—“But where is the front door?”
Copeland Casati is so enthusiastic about the educational value of Casa Ti that she will rent the house out for weekends. “You throw open your doors with concepts people would never consider, but maybe by the end of the weekend they’re like, ‘That wasn’t bad. I liked doing that.’ It’s just an effort to change their philosophy.”
Visit GreenModernKits.com to how the Casatis have made luxury the-lack-of-luxury.
R. Tyler King is an editorial intern at Inform.