Beauty and Inspiration

The design of Burh Becc at Beacon Springs celebrates the traditional spirit of the farmhouse amidst a new and yet ages-old permaculture style of farming. The radical departure from monoculture farming methods at Beacon Springs complements the radical departure from habits of urban sprawl common to the outskirts of Ann Arbor.

Owners’ narrative: The Burh Becc farmhouse and barn will incorporate archetypal design elements from centuries old Mediterranean farmhouses that continue to provide pleasure to their occupants even now, so many years later. Of particular note in the Burh Becc design are the classic gabled roof with heavily beamed ceiling, a prominent lookout tower, and heavy masonry interior and exterior walls.

In addition to the archetypal characteristics of Burh Becc described above, the following features have been integrated into the design predominantly for human delight, and in most cases for the functional value as well:

  • Tree: A nearly 100-year-old hawthorn tree is already the centerpiece of what will become the entry courtyard. The tree will become the anchor point for permaculture edible gardens in the courtyard, greeting and embracing all as they approach the tower entry.
  • Tower: A 30’ tall tower will provide endless opportunity for beautiful vistas. The tower’s small footprint will give all entering a wonderful sense of light and spaciousness, followed by an experience of compression and release when passing from the tower through the massive stone archway and into the open-beamed main living space.
  • Exterior forms in contrast: The massive, starkly horizontal stone north wall of the house will stand in contrast to the tall slender tower. A curving, airy colonnade and arbor laden with grapevines will mediate both. The colonnade and arbor will swirl toward a “gravity mass” created by a hawthorn tree. Other key features of the courtyard will exhibit similar characteristics, including the low stone wall following the driveway; the walkway between driveway and tower; and stepping stones connecting dining terrace to colonnade.
  • Interior stone wall: The massive masonry wall along the north side of the house, with seven small arched-top windows, provides a connector for all rooms in the house, a cozy jaunt down its low-raftered edge, and multiple long views.
  • Southern wall glazing: Glazing along the entire long southern wall will provide views from all living spaces to the south meadow and the long line of tall trees along the creek to the southwest. These south wall windows, augmented by roof monitors above open-ceiling living space, will infuse the primary living spaces with natural light.
  • Materials: Interior and exterior materials have been chosen for beautiful texture, color and composition: stone, stucco, rough-cut timbers, interior plaster, and heavy plank shelves, tables and cabinets. We hope to harvest on site all oak and comparable woods for feature furniture, shelves and cabinetry.
  • Dining terrace under trees: In traditional Tuscan style, the outdoor dining space will be set away from the house, on its own terrace shaded by trees and surrounded on three sides by a rain garden integrated into the gray water filtration system.
  • A warm hearth: True to the tradition of old farm house living, Burh Becc will have a large, exceptionally efficient and clean-burning Rumford fireplace.
  • Artwork: The project owners love artwork, and have carefully planned wall space to accommodate current paintings, as well as those they’ve not yet found but hope to find in the years to come.

Architect’s Narrative: The owners’ personal “imperative” was to create an environment that would be warm and welcoming – a peaceful respite from the trials and tribulations of the world. Ironically, Burh Becc, as a Living Building Challenge candidate residence, will truly provide safe haven from many pending “storms” – psychological, economic and ecological. Throughout the design process the term “hunkered down” was frequently used by the owners to express their foundational design parti (from the French prendre, parti means “to make a decision”): essentially that this home should be well grounded and embrace and envelope the user like a soft, warm blanket. The house is designed to welcome you in and wrap you up in arms of comfort and delight. That is the soul of this home. That is the core Beauty and Spirit intention.

Nestled into the land and carefully sited on the property to take advantage of the best possible views and solar orientation, the home feels well placed –  as if it had organically sprouted from the land in just the right location and orientation. From the curving drive approach, to the building-framed courtyard, to the progression of the colonnade, to entering the dwelling itself, there is a carefully orchestrated arrival sequence moving to greater and greater levels of “embrace” by the home. The dwelling itself, drawing from a Mediterranean/Tuscan style, will be clad in stucco, stone and wood and seems itself to be “of the earth.” The roof forms and eaves were held low and tight to the window heads to further enhance the sense of being enveloped and embraced by the building. Once inside the home, the views to the surrounding landscapes and vistas are inspiring, but not overwhelming. They are presented as “pictures” in the wall, as opposed to expansive, stark, open banks of glass. The window openings themselves are nested in thickened, plastered walls with softened radius corners and edges giving them a sense of anchoring, gravitas and weight. The use of authentic natural materials such as reclaimed barn timbers in the vaulted main living space, stone sills and stools on the windows, real stone cladding, further bring a rustic, old-world charm and character to the dwelling. All of this surrounds the main gathering space’s focal point, a robust stone clad fireplace. The fireplace, an ultra high-efficiency wood burning unit clad in traditional stone materials and mantle accommodates the deeply intrinsic human affinity for connection to “the hearth” as the heart of the home. All of these design strategies and elements conspire to give the dwelling the soul and core Beauty and Spirit intent that the owners desired.

Inspiration and Education

Once under construction, the project owners, architect, builder and LBC project manager/consultant  will hold a series of events to educate sustainability and building professionals, community members, and neighbors, and to promote the mission of the International Living Future Institute and the principles of the Living Building Challenge. Our proposed tour phases are as follows: at groundbreaking, at completion of foundations, at completion of rough framing, during mechanical rough-in, at completion of most finish surfaces, and finally at certificate of occupancy and ribbon cutting. At the owners’ discretion, additional periodic celebrations may be held during the operations phase. The owners also anticipate similar events as they develop the permaculture farming operation. The barn shop is designed to do double duty, accommodating medium-sized groups for such events.

Upon completion of the project, an owner’s manual will be developed, with contributions from all members of the design and construction team to ensure that every component of the living building is clearly understood for effective operation and maintenance of the building. Additionally, the completed ILFI case study will be made available to the Institute’s website following successful certification of our project.

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