Safe and Sound

An earthquake- and fire-resistant concept home in California demonstrates the structural and healthful benefits of building with steel.

January 01, 2004

 

A varied roof line, numerous decks and a sweeping entry stair give this custom home the look of a hillside village. "My clients wanted their house to have a man-made appearance, as though it were coming up out of the ground rather than dug into it," says architect David Martin. While the structure stands apart from its setting, the homeowners chose the exterior color palette to harmonize with the surroundings, and all plants used in landscaping are indigenous.
Concrete, stucco and steel make the home highly fire-resistant. The stainless steel barrel roof features a dull finish to minimize glare and will never need painting. The gutter and downspout system is integrated into the roof design. The stainless steel exterior handrails, trellis, stairs and landings complement the home's contemporary style and satisfy the owners' desire for low maintenance.

'From a construction standpoint, there are two events that we always know are going to occur in Southern California: earthquakes and fires," architect David Martin says. "We design and build our structures in anticipation of them.

"Most homes in this part of California are a hybridization of both steel and wood and don't make use of steel construction to the extent that we did for this project." Steel, he says, provides the flexibility needed to mitigate an earthquake's damaging effects.

Martin says the structural loads calculated for this home were similar to those of a commercial structure. More than 200,000 pounds of steel and steel products were used in its construction, including 81,000 pounds of steel for framing, 14,000 pounds of stainless steel for the roof and gutters, and 67,000 pounds of steel handrails, trellises, exterior stairs and landing surfaces.

The home's bottom-heavy design augments its earthquake resistance. A concrete foundation forms a heavy base for the home, which becomes progressively lighter in weight as it rises to the roof, making it much less susceptible to damage from shaking.

The steel construction, along with the home's concrete and stucco exterior finish, also makes the structure exceptionally fire-resistant, as evidenced during the Southern California wildfires in the fall of 2003. "The fires were all around this home, but it was not damaged at all," Martin says. In fact, he says, the homeowners opened their residence to the firefighters, providing a place to rest, shower and eat, and let them use the home as a command post for firefighting operations in the area.

 

Full of surprises and tough to its core, this luxury residence northwest of Los Angeles exhibits the same elements that give its 134-acre mountainside site overlooking the Simi Valley a compelling character. With more than 200,000 pounds of steel framing, roofing and decking materials, and other steel products, the 11,000-square-foot home is remarkably strong, flexible and low-maintenance.

Responding to his clients' desire that their new home be virtually maintenance-free, architect David Martin designed it to feature a combination of steel framing, concrete block and concrete panel construction. These materials not only contribute to the modern aesthetic the homeowners wanted, says Martin, but more important, they also help the structure resist damage from earthquakes, fires and mudslides - legitimate concerns for Southern California builders.

Martin's design for the home already had received a Design Award from the San Fernando Valley chapter of the American Institute of Architects when it attracted the attention of Middletown, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp. The company approached Martin's clients with a proposal that the home serve as a concept house showcasing the benefits of structural and cold-formed steel in residential construction.

 

Strong and lightweight, the steel framework made it possible to create dramatic open spaces such as the three-story central stair tower (below) and living room (above, top) without visible columns or beams. For the home's numerous window walls, stainless steel structural support columns and steel spider braces bear the load of large expanses of glass. A rooftop deck (above, center), surrounded by stainless steel railings, provides a dramatic view of the Simi Valley. Large windows flood one of the two master baths (above, bottom) with natural light.

"The company's involvement did not create a problem at all for us because the house was already designed for steel construction," Martin says. "The changes that we had to make mainly involved swapping one material for another." These included a dull-finish stainless steel roof rather than the copper roof Martin originally specified. Interior and exterior handrails, stairs, landings and distinctive trellises also are made of steel.

The home also serves as a case study for AK Steel on the effectiveness of its new antimicrobial-coated steel, which is intended to inhibit the formation of mold, mildew and bacteria on oft-touched and/or hard-to-clean areas such as appliance surfaces, doors and door hardware, bathroom fixtures and the inside of HVAC systems. The home includes products from companies such as Carrier, Ice-O-Matic, Lindab and Sargent Manufacturing, as well as prototypes from others - all made with antimicrobial-coated steel.

"The homeowners were intrigued with the concept of self-cleaning products and agreed to let us use their home as a case study," says Alan McCoy, AK Steel's vice president of public affairs. "We have test protocols in place to reassess the effectiveness of the coating on these products in the home on an annual basis for a number of years to come."

Martin designed the home's main body in 10x20-foot modules to vary the roof line and give the front elevation a distinctive "village on a hillside" appearance. "The setting is dramatic," he says. "At the half-mile-long driveway approach, you are not greeted simply by a house but by a circular plaza surrounded by a series of structures all organized to create a palpable sense of place."

To reinforce this design goal, Martin incorporated a detached, 1,600-square-foot guesthouse along the home's front elevation. "The estate is really two homes linked together into one composition," he says.

"The clients wanted their home to have a man-made, almost prefabricated appearance," says Martin. "It is actually a series of steel bulkheads that march down the sloped terrain. But when they chose the exterior color palette, the homeowners were careful to match it to that of the surrounding landscape so the home would harmonize with the site."

Inside, formal living space orients around a three-story entry hall with a floating staircase. The modular design enables various rooms, including the living and dining rooms flanking the entry hall, to be partitioned off, creating a cozy atmosphere for everyday living. This also can conserve energy by limiting the use of space when it is not required for entertaining. A secondary staircase and an elevator with antimicrobial-coated stainless steel doors connect the kitchen, office space and utility areas with the upper-level master retreat as well as the basement.

"When it is just the two of them at home, they do not have to participate in all areas of the house," Martin says. When overnight visitors don't occupy the guesthouse, it also can be closed down to limit energy use, he notes.

Martin says the home had to provide enough interior space and outdoor facilities for the numerous fund-raisers his clients hold while also respecting their desire to preserve the natural environment, including rock formations, hidden valleys and more than 2,000 oaks. He positioned the three-story home on its boulder-strewn site to cause minimal disruption to the natural topography. Any significantly sized rocks that had to be moved were relocated to other areas of the property, and all nonnative plants were removed.

The completed landscape includes several waterfalls, concert stages for evening affairs, a tennis court and a picnic area, yet it retains nature-friendly elements such as native plantings, rock caves and a multitude of birdhouses.

Construction of the home took two years and was completed in October 2003.


 

Style of home | Contemporary

Location | Simi Valley, Calif.

Total square footage | 11,000; guesthouse, 1,600

Estimated market value | $5 million to $7 million

Architect | AC Martin Partners, Los Angeles

Custom primary residence for upscale client, who served as general contractor

Major Products Used | Appliances: Franke (kitchen sinks), Dacor (dishwashers, ranges, microwave, outdoor grill), Cres Cor (convection oven, holding cabinet), Hobart (commercial mixer), Ice-O-Matic (ice machines), Marvel Scientific (under-counter ice machines), McCall Refrigeration (refrigerators/refrigeration drawers), Vita-Mix (blender) | Countertops: granite | Cabinetry: custom maple | Kitchen ceiling: stainless steel | Wine rack: Long-Stanton Manufacturing | Plumbing fixtures: Franke | Doors: Next Door Co. | Door hardware: McKinney Products, Rixson, Rockwood Manufacturing, Sargent Manufacturing | Exterior: concrete, stucco | Roofing: ATAS International | Galvanized steel framing: CEMCO | HVAC: Carrier (air handler), Lindab (ductwork), Titus (air- distribution devices) | Moisture barrier: DuPont Tyvek | Antimicrobial compound: AgION Technologies

Photography courtesy of AK Steel



 

Flex Spaces


'From a construction standpoint, there are two events that we always know are going to occur in Southern California: earthquakes and fires," architect David Martin says. "We design and build our structures in anticipation of them.

"Most homes in this part of California are a hybridization of both steel and wood and don't make use of steel construction to the extent that we did for this project." Steel, he says, provides the flexibility needed to mitigate an earthquake's damaging effects.

Martin says the structural loads calculated for this home were similar to those of a commercial structure. More than 200,000 pounds of steel and steel products were used in its construction, including 81,000 pounds of steel for framing, 14,000 pounds of stainless steel for the roof and gutters, and 67,000 pounds of steel handrails, trellises, exterior stairs and landing surfaces.

The home's bottom-heavy design augments its earthquake resistance. A concrete foundation forms a heavy base for the home, which becomes progressively lighter in weight as it rises to the roof, making it much less susceptible to damage from shaking.

The steel construction, along with the home's concrete and stucco exterior finish, also makes the structure exceptionally fire-resistant, as evidenced during the Southern California wildfires in the fall of 2003. "The fires were all around this home, but it was not damaged at all," Martin says. In fact, he says, the homeowners opened their residence to the firefighters, providing a place to rest, shower and eat, and let them use the home as a command post for firefighting operations in the area.



 

Alan McCoy of AK Steel says studies show that microbes are more plentiful on kitchen surfaces than anywhere else in a house. This gourmet-style kitchen, which features eight sinks, three dishwashers and two full-size ranges, contains more antimicrobial-coated products, including ceiling panels, appliances and door hardware, than any other area of the house. Many of the products in the home are prototypes, while others are already on the market.

 

Clean Living


Designed by David Martin for clients who desired a healthy environment, this project provided AK Steel Corp. with an ideal opportunity to assess the real-world performance of its new antimicrobial-coated steel.

The steel features an epoxy- or polyester-based paint finish containing an antimicrobial compound developed to suppress the formation of bacteria, mold and fungi on oft-touched and hard-to-reach surfaces. For this project, AK Steel made the steel available for manufacturers to use in creating product prototypes ranging from appliance surfaces to architectural hardware to air-handling equipment.

Manufacturers did not need to alter their production processes to accommodate the coated steel, says Alan McCoy, AK Steel's vice president of public affairs. And while cutting, bending or welding the steel can cause a slight break in the coating, that will not reduce its effectiveness, he says.

"There has really been an explosion of all types of antimicrobial products on the market today, from soaps to plastics," McCoy says. "This is in response to the growing demand from consumers who place a strong emphasis on cleanliness and healthy living."



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