For sustainability guru William A. McDonough, FAIA, buildings aren't vampires sucking up natural resources, but regenerative systems that should improve the environment. “The idea of 'getting to zero' for water or energy use is ridiculous. Is that the best we can do?” he says. This ethos, the guiding principle of his design career, is clearly embodied by the Meadow Farm House, completed in 2013 for a family whose values align closely with his own.

The building site, a secluded three-acre perch in northern California, sits close to but not directly overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “You sense the water's presence through the coastal breezes that sweep across the land here in waves,” says McDonough. The LEED Platinum project, a collaboration with interior designer Carla Carstens and landscape architect Bernard Trainor + Associates, evolved into an organic farm, with a 6,120-square-foot house and outbuildings nestled in a landscape of orchards, gardens, and native trees.

In form and materials, the house reflects and celebrates its rarefied location. Gently undulating portions of the zinc roof nod to the ocean and help to redirect and slow constant winds. Structural walls of rammed earth were made from site soils—“It's as though a chunk of the earth was lifted straight up from below,” says McDonough—while ventilated wood-framed walls, clad in reclaimed redwood, let the envelope breathe. Its horizontal low-slung massing and warm, spare interiors complement the dramatic yet serene surroundings.

“This house is in repose, almost supine on the landscape,” says McDonough. But the calm belies an essential productivity: solar and PV systems provide nearly all of the house's energy, and extensive gray- water recycling and rainwater harvesting fulfill its irrigation needs, a footprint that leaves no dent.

Completion Date: 2013

Gross square footage: 6,120 (main house)

William McDonough + Partners
Charlottesville VA / San Francisco CA
contact: Kira Gould: 415 690 0182


William McDonough + Partners
Charlottesville VA / San Francisco CA
contact: Kira Gould: 415 690 0182

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
William McDonough, FAIA, FRIBA Int.

David Johnson, AIA

Katherine Grove, AIA (no longer w/ firm)

Mark Graham, registered architect (no longer w/ firm)

Tim Gordon (no longer w/ firm)

William McDonough + Partners

Interior designer:
Carla Carstens Designs, Inc.

General Contractor:
Red Horse Construction

Landscape architect:
Bernard Trainor + Associates

MEP Engineering:

Structural Engineering:
Tipping Mar

Civil Engineering:


Charles Salter

LEED Consultants:
Davis Energy (Patti Heath); Green Building Specialist, Inc. (Joe and Colette LoConte)

Emily Hagopian
415 786 1024
' 2014 Emily Hagopian, courtesy William McDonough+Partners



Structural system
Concrete foundation and shear walls
Steel frame with wood framing infill
Engineered rammed earth and wood framing; custom compound curve
Sustainably sourced glu-lam to frame the roof

Exterior cladding
wood w/ custom stain

Rammed earth exterior wall elements

Built-up roofing:
Siplast SBS Modified Bitumen

Standing seam Rheinzink

Wood frame:
Dynamic Windows & Doors

Caranal 366

Custom rolling skylight

Custom wood

Sliding doors:
Custom wood

Ashley Norton

Interior finishes
Living Room

Area Rug ' Tai Ping

Blue Mist Slipper Chairs ' Lakeside

Sofa & Two Chairs ' Custom design by Carla Carstens

Coffee/End Tables ' Custom design by Carla Carstens

Dining Room

Chairs and Banquettes - Christian Liagre

Barstools ' Custom built by Roger Combs

Table ' Custom design by Carla Carstens

Light Fixture - Satori


Backsplash ' Heath Ceramics, M26 Meadow Green


All Furniture ' Custom design by Carla Carstens

Master Bedroom

Nightstands ' Berman Rosetti

Lamps ' Hwang Bishop

Bed ' Christian Liagre

Art ' Gary Ruddell

Area Rug ' Tai Ping

Master Bathroom

Counter ' Limestone, Fontainebleau

Walls ' Heath Ceramics, M65 Vanilla Bean

Floor ' Crossville Color Blocks, A1108 Sea Otter


Area Rug ' Tai Ping

Chairs ' Joseph Jeup

Side Table ' Custom design by Carla Carstens

Kid's Bathroom

Counter ' Dupont Zodiac Quartz, Mossy Green

Walls ' Heath Ceramics, M3 Parchment


Furniture ' MamaGreen

Pendant Light ' Lightspan

Sconce ' Studio Joseph Watts

Dimming System or other lighting controls:

Reclaimed water from roof & surface drains connected to toilet supply lines

Photovoltaic system:
23.7 kW system using Sunpower panels

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
70,000 callon rainwater collection system

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
20 roof mounted evacuated tube solar thermal collectors for radiant space heating