Off the Grid: Harmony Dawn Retreat

We never shut up about our planting of a green roof, but have to do one last post here about the Harmony Dawn Retreat where this all took place. We do not post everything we see of "green architecture" because while this site is about sustainability and green issues, it is also most definitely about design, and so many projects we see are really green or really drop dead gorgeous, but few are both. As an architect this treehugger understands the dichotomy- that's why we write instead of design. Carolyn Moss's Harmony Dawn Retreat is an interesting study.Our first reaction was confusion. Is this a renovation and addition? why are there these two flat roofed buildings attached to a building with steep roofs?

It turns out that the architect wanted a section of the building to be appropriate for installation of photovoltaics and other sections to be suitable for green roofs and rainwater collection, and carefully knitted them together. Furthermore the house is divided into three pods- the studio space, the central living space and the kitchen/dining space so that wonderful smells from the kitchen do not distract those in the studio.

The central bay acts as a tight core built around the masonry fireplace, much like historic Ontario farmhouses, where the heat of the central fireplace rises to heat the entire house.


Meanwhile the peripheral wings have massive windows facing south and thick concrete floors to absorb solar gain. It is all an odd mix of contradictory systems and yet it works.

In the basement there are systems to make a techie treehugger proud- two monster batteries absorb a kilowatt of wind power, 800 watts of Photovoltaics; solar collectors warm the water for the radiant floors; we are told by Carolyn that so much solar gain is picked up by the floor in the studio that the radiant flooring system absorbs more heat than it radiates- We never thought of such a system as a solar collector before.

Ultimately the glass blocks cast into the floor, the exposed concrete masonry walls and the general warmth and feeling of the space won us over- there is more than just technology here, there is careful architectural design. It does not jump out and hit you over the head but it works.

Frank Lloyd Wright said that doctors were lucky because they got to bury their mistakes, whereas architects could only plant vines. Let's start a new rating system for architecture- zero to five vines, five being really awful and zero being a green Rem Koolhaas. We give this two vines- thoughtful, intelligent, warm and inviting. ::Harmony Dawn by ::Moss Sund Inc. (no website but contact them by email)

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