Post details: Street Smart


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Street Smart

An elegant courtyard helps this urban infill home focus inward.

IslandCreating an Island

Within a crowded urban landscape, open spaces stand out. Every city has them: oddly-shaped, forgotten parcels of land left behind in the rush of earlier development. Using an unwanted 1/3-acre gap adjoining a four-way intersection, Tucson architect Bob Taylor tucked a 1,600-square-foot main house around a landscaped courtyard and still found space for an office and guest quarters.

Reducing noise from traffic on the nearby streets and designing a residence that would afford him complete privacy were two of Bob's priorities. The others were building a home with an open and spacious floor plan, maximizing solar heat gain during winter months while minimizing it during the Tucson summers, and juggling spaces for two detached guesthouses and a possible third guesthouse.

IslandOne of the privacy-enhancing techniques Bob used is 10-foot-high perimeter walls made from sound-absorbing sand-filled concrete blocks. Tucson building codes allow 6-foot walls along property lines, but Bob realized that wouldn't achieve his privacy goals. Instead, he placed the 10-foot walls an allowable 25 feet back from the property line, filling in the space outside the perimeter walls with low-maintenance desert scrub plants such as mesquite and creosote bushes. Only the main entry doorway and garage door break the stucco surface of the walls.

Some walls of the home facing the street were formed using Polysteel molded foam blocks that can be stacked to create walls. Once the blocks are assembled, concrete is poured into a center cavity to create a sandwich of concrete between insulating layers of foam. The exterior is then given a protective finish coating.

Island"Polysteel gave me two big advantages in terms of its insulating and sound-deadening qualities," Bob says. "I probably paid more to have [the Polysteel] put in at the building site, but I've recovered that investment and have saved money in my long-term cooking and heating costs."

Borrowing from the Mexican concept of building residences around courtyards, Bob oriented his home so its south wall faces a courtyard with a fountain, pool, fireplace, and tropical plants such as Key limes, thin-leaf figs, and hibiscus. Glass panels for windows and doors dominate this wall and flank a living room fireplace. During winter months, the sun's low angle allows direct light into the living room where it heats the poured concrete floor. A roof overhang shields this room from direct sunlight during Tucson's intensely hot summers.

Better Homes and Gardens



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