Architect and educator Larry Speck writes "Increasingly, I’m more interested in what architecture does than just what it is." He's not alone; there are many who are trying to build houses that by their very design, do something to keep themselves comfortable. It is the opposite of a passive house (not in the passivhaus sense) just sitting there waiting for the thermostat to click on. It's designed to be a system of controlling solar gain, retaining heat, channeling wind. It's an active, busy building. Speck shows a few glimpses of a new house he has designed outside of Santa Fe built with rammed earth.
How all these elements – location, materials, building placement, wall density – work together is the real story here. At 6,200 feet, the local climate is high, arid desert with very warm summertime temperatures and a sharply colder winter. By siting the building to face south, we gained excellent winter solar exposure. Large, ipe wood overhangs and a trellis act as a brise soleil, while the dense walls soak up the daily solar gain and radiate it back at night. The huge, sliding, high-performance glass door openings permit a comfortable, steady cross-ventilation fed by the mountain chaparrals. With the deep sunshades, the house is pretty much clear of the sun’s arc in the summer sky, and yet takes full advantage of the direct light in the cooler months.... In short, we’ve built a beautiful, self-regulating performance envelope with essentially just dirt.