Los Angeles

Sycamore House is both a home and laboratory for Kovac Architects namesake, Michael Kovac. The residence, located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood in Los Angeles, is scheduled for completion later this year and should earn a LEED-Platinum rating.

The simple geometry of the 3,400-square-foot project is inspired by its site. The modest, horizontal elevation facing the street belies the size of the three-level house, which is revealed at back. There, a series of variegated volumes containing a master bedroom, living room and outdoor deck jut out over a steep slope. Large windows afford stunning views of a ridge covered in sage, and beyond it, the San Gabriel Mountains. Standing on the house’s green roof, one can see the ocean two miles to the west.

Kovac relies on poured-in-place concrete floor slabs and a steel truss for the cantilevered portions of the structure; he employs steel open-web truss joists and wood framing elements for the rest of the house. A 23-foot shear wall organizes the house spatially, and its thermal mass helps regulate air temperature: it encourages natural ventilation by guiding warm air to clerestory windows and by drawing cool canyon breezes from below. In a similar vein, a chimney stack is outfitted with a mister so that hot easterly Santa Ana winds are moistened and cooled before entering the house. Additionally, a shallow water feature outside the master bedroom helps create a more temperate microclimate.

The house runs primarily on photovoltaic power. A geothermal system provides supplemental cooling, while a sedum-planted roof insulates the structure and reduces the heat island effect. Other green features include concrete with high fly ash content, FSC-certified woods, reclaimed teak and bamboo flooring, non-VOC paints, recycled glass tile in the bathrooms, formaldehyde-free plywood for the sheathing, Energy Star appliances, and dual-flush and low-flow fixtures.
Demolition of an existing residence on site is being overseen by The Reuse People, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to keeping usable building materials out of landfills. A minimum of 75 percent of the demolition material will be recycled. For instance, interior fixtures and appliances will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, and framing lumber will be reused in low-income construction in Mexico.

The demolition and construction process is being videotaped and can be viewed at sycamorehouseonline.com.