First profiled a decade ago, we checked back in with the adventurous architect of Biosphere 2 and his plans for his massive, sustainable prefab.
In Dwell’s Dec/Jan 2010 issue, which tackled all manner of speculations about the future of design, former Editor-in-Chief Sam Grawe’s story, “Piece by Pearce”, introduced readers to the Pearce Ecohouse, a mountaintop residence in Malibu proposed by designer Peter Pearce. The idea behind the project was that, when built, it could become “a prototype for a fully sustainable prefab home.”
Pearce, who trained as a product designer, had worked for the Eames Office and Buckminster Fuller before launching Pearce Structures (one of several ambitious Pearce ventures), where he helped develop steel space frame structures that included Biosphere 2 in Arizona, the Navy Pier Winter Garden in Chicago, and American Airlines corporate headquarters in Dallas.
He brought that experience to the Ecohouse, the “culmination of a lifelong quest to home in on the basic principles that drive good design,” wrote Grawe. The crystalline, prefabricated steel frame structure, floating on tall piers, resembled a spaceship landing among the peaks of Malibu. Its lightweight frame—inspired by Pearce’s extensive research on patterns of structure in nature—would provide maximum stability and volume (3,138 square feet of column-free space) while employing a minimum of materials.
The home would also maximize space, light, and natural ventilation while minimizing energy consumption. It would also be covered with 96 insulated and operable exterior windows and 48 operable ceiling windows (all would be cleaned by an integrated sprinkler system). A louver-based “climate management canopy” would minimize thermal gain in summer while opening the home up to the sun in the winter. The house’s temperature would be further controlled by radiant heating and cooling, through a floor-mounted system of hydronic tubing. Energy would be provided primarily via photovoltaic solar panels, with heating and cooling augmented via geothermal and heat exchange systems.
Ten years later, Pearce’s dream—the home’s proposed form and structure remain the same, except it would now sit lighter on the land atop several more piers—has not come true, for myriad reasons. Among other things, Pearce, now 84, has endured a number of health issues, his wife of 47 years passed away, and an abrupt move from Malibu to Ojai. While he continues to refine plans and seek permits for the ambitious structure (he still owns the property on which the Ecohouse would sit), the main obstacle is money. Pearce estimates the project will cost $5 to $7 million, with much of the cost going into extensive site work. He’s now seeking funds via foundations and companies looking to promote sustainable design, and via sales of a new chair prototype he is developing. (Pearce still receives royalties from his popular molded polypropene Cachet Chair, which he designed for Steelcase in 2001.)
See the full story on Dwell.com: