M-House System


Project Type: Single Family Residence
Location: Buffalo, New York
Phase: Competition, Unbuilt
Year: Fall 2009

Related Works: Inhabitat, M_House System (MONSA Pub)

The M_House System is intended for the rapid design and fabrication of ecologically friendly moderate size single family homes. It was designed for a specific site and climate of Northern New York State. The envelope has minimal fenestration, limiting heat loss during cold Buffalo winters. All apertures are selectively placed, allowing for indirect light penetration from multiple directions. Windows on lot lines are placed high to ensure privacy. The single bifurcation at the rear of the house creates space for an external deck, while the staggered end modules generate a front porch typical of local construction. The ribbed system produces a spacious loft like interior, and scales the space through serial variation. Windows at the foundation line illuminate the basement space. The distinctive butterfly roof section allows daylighting to be concentrated in the center of the space, and the varying ridge heights shade south facing skylights from direct sun in the morning and evening. The butterfly also facilitates the collection of rainwater that drains into a cistern in the crook of the bifurcation. Finally, the butterfly form captures snow in the winter, which acts as an effective roof insulator when temperatures are below freezing. Despite producing, in the aggregate, the appearance of curvilinear form, all the components of the M_House are flat. The M_House strives for adaptability in both flexibility of the design system and in the continuing extension and reuse of assemblies. The system provides an obvious means of internal subdivision and its linear nature means that later extension is simple, encouraging the design of small, potentially enlargeable dwellings.

| DESIGN PRINCIPALS: Dana Cupkova + Kevin Pratt © EPIPHYTE Lab | DESIGN TEAM: Monica Freundt, Kyriaki Kasabalis, Jamie Pelletier |

M_House is derived from a reversal of the Butler Building frame. The M shape morphology allows for better lighting control, water capture and snow collection, intended for enhancing insulation values in winter months. It is based on a two-stage assembly process in which prefabricated components -panels and ribs- are brought together to form discreet 12’ wide prefabricated modules, which are then shipped to the site, placed on a foundation, and joined.

The M_House is designed using a 3D parametric model that allows for rapid reconfiguration of the basic construction system based on a specific environmental data set. Thus, one can test multiple morphological, performative and programmatic strategies efficiently. The overall parametric model enables the rapid reconfiguration of the basic frame component sequence in response to specific climate and programmatic needs. While the overall geometry can be interactively reassembled it is also controlled by a series of constraints that check when a model exceeds particular design parameters, such as ceiling height, interior volume or roof pitch.

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The M_House is designed in a series of three organizational types that take advantage of bifurcating the linear system at either end. The variations within each type respond to specific site, size and program needs, such as internal patio or front porch, but the overall geometry is always constrained by the limitations  of  the  flat rib and panel construction logic. Although the system can be built with a basement, it is best used without one, since the continuous rib allows the house to sit on a line of sonotube pier foundations that minimizes site impact and concrete usage. The linear nature of the system means that later extension is simple. Panels and ribs are easily disassembled for either relocation or recycling.

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The ribs of the M_House are assembled out of 3 overlapping layers of ¾” plywood.  Their 16” depth allows for 3 sections to be cut from a sheet of 4’ x 8’ material.  The templates for the end cuts are generated by the CAD system. The 16” depth of the rib allows the infill panels to be staggered without curving them, enabling the creation of morphological variation.  All the components of the M_House are flat. The fact that the ribs are wood means that thermal bridging problems are minimized. The ribs are placed with a clear opening of 4’, thus the lightweight infill panels can be assembled from stock materials.

The infill panels, while bracing the structure laterally, themselves bear little load, thus their framing can be sized to accommodate appropriate insulation.  They can carry windows or any number of cladding materials, as well as solar thermal or photovoltaic devices.

The ribs and panels are then easily assembled into larger modules for transport.  The sections are joined by adding interstitial infill panels on site.  Because the system is essentially made of two basic components, and templates are generated by the computer, the system is ideal for use in situations where construction labor is not highly skilled.

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