Designing buildings for the local climate is an important factor in making them more energy-efficient and pleasant to live in. In hot climates, proper solar orientation, shading and improving natural ventilation are ways to passively cool a building, without having to install air conditioning, or at least, rely on it less.
Influenced by the traditional shotgun house of the southern United States, this Houston, Texas home was designed by architect Zui Ng of ZDES as his family residence. It uses all of these simple but important strategies to cool the interior naturally, while also offering a modern take on an old architectural typology and proposing a prototype for affordable housing. We get this great tour of the architect's 1,500-square-foot home (a good portion of it built by the man himself) from Fair Companies:
Dubbed the Shotgun Chamelon House, the three-bedroom and two-bathroom home was done on a low budget, and designed to be versatile enough to house one single family or an extended family, or partially rented to tenants if necessary. The screened façade can be altered with different materials to allow the house to blend into its context, or louvres or signage added.
Ng, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Houston's Hines College of Architecture and Design, wanted to create an affordable house based on his research into the old shotgun houses of the South. These homes are often one-storey affairs, with rooms placed one after another in a long row, connected with doors rather than a hallway. Many of these buildings had the front rooms rented out for commercial uses, while the rear and side doors allowed families to live in the back.
Following that same idea, Shotgun Chameleon uses adaptable stairways to achieve the same effect, says Ng on Dezeen:
Closing the internal stair, this three bedroom and two bath single-family home could become an up-and-down duplex for rental or accommodate a multi-generational family arrangement. Tenants on the upper floor could use the external stairs. This same setting could also be used as live-work space with the bottom unit as office spaces.
Much of the home has Ng's hands-on touch: he made his own cabinets and furniture, and used salvaged materials whenever possible. He also adapted an electric standing desk frame into a dining table that can motor up to become a kitchen island for food prep or for entertaining.
Behind that front façade is the main balcony, visually connected to the main interior living space thanks to a generous glass wall. The placement of the balcony has been calculated to keep the summer sun out and to allow the winter sun to light the interior. That emphasis on the domesticized exterior also pays homage to this Houston neighbourhood's traditional African-American roots, says Ng:
The design of the house also aims to revisit and to celebrate the idea of balcony and porch living, which is rooted heavily in the vernacular of the neighbourhood, Freedmen's Town. The balcony not only provides a great social space for the residents but also encourages interaction with neighbours on the sidewalk or across street.
To keep energy costs low, the house has been designed to funnel in fresh air, in addition to other things like a tankless water heater. Part of Ng's idea of an adaptable house is where there are many ways to use and finance it in the long term:
The renting out option helps generate income to offset the cost of a mortgage. This encourages a more sustainable way of home ownership.
Ng's plan is to now work on developing his next affordable housing prototype, one with four bedrooms and which can be easily converted into a rental duplex. His aim is to leverage the DIY aspect of it so that it can built within a budget of $100,000 (you can see the design here). Ng is now fundraising to get it built; you can inquire about donating to the project here. To see more of Zui Ng's work, visit ZDES.