Caterpillar House

The Santa Lucia Preserve is a private community north of San Francisco that occupies the last of the state's large Mexican land grants. With 300 families on 20,000 acres, it's no wonder that residents call it their own "private national park."  A close contact with abundant nature also breeds respect and sustainable architecture. Feldman Architecture's recent addition is a modern and thoroughly green addition to Santa Lucia Preserve. Jonathan Feldman answered some questions about the project.
Exterior rooms blend seamlessly into the landscape, and serve to cool and ventilate the home. The roof gently slopes to optimize the output of integrated PV panels without compromising the curve of the house. ( Photo ©: Joe Fletcher )
Can you describe your design process for the building?

Having lived in a Cliff May home, the client came to this project with a love of modern ranch houses and looking for an environmentally-conscious response to a beautiful site within the Santa Lucia Preserve, a 20,000 acre nature preserve. The design of the house sought to accentuate a connection to the land, implementing sustainable elements while exploring a contemporary version of the ranch ideals: massing that is low and horizontal, an open plan with a strong connection between indoor/outdoor spaces, and living areas which center informally on the kitchen.  

The client desired a contemporary design with an open plan, clean lines and lots of glass. Knowing that glass provides relatively poor insulation, the team focused on designing a house that would be elongated along the east-west axis using the sun for passive heating and cooling. Searching for a sustainable material to provide the needed thermal mass for this strategy led to rammed earth, which created beautiful walls and diverted thousands of cubic yards of soil from landfill.

To better connect to the land and take advantage of the mild climate and stunning views, the public spaces open to patios with large overhangs and retractable sunshades that blur the delineation of indoor/outdoor. The modest size at 2,800 square feet is less than a third of the average home size in this development, but demonstrates that by opening up the house and designing flexible spaces a modest home can feel spacious and sit lightly on the land; we hope this inspires others to build smaller.
The design of the Caterpillar House sought to emphasize the impressive landscape. ( Photo ©: Joe Fletcher )
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?

For this project, we learned much about the specifics of rammed earth construction and water catchment systems. Since this was the first project for our firm to implement these two systems, we invested considerably to find the leaders in these areas and involved them early in the design process. This collaboration was very important and beneficial. That said, there still was a steep learning curve. In particular, rammed earth is a very tricky material. It is still rare enough that everyone seems to recommend different methods, and there are a number of conflicting opinions about best practices. At the Caterpillar House, the results were complicated by the fact that we used site soil excavated for the foundations and grading which is significantly different from the soil typically used to make other rammed earth walls we researched. Since Caterpillar was built, we have worked on another rammed earth home that exposed us to other important challenges with the material. Lots of useful lessons with every rammed earth project!
The open floor plan accentuates a strong connection to the outdoor spaces. ( Photo ©: Joe Fletcher )
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

I think Caterpillar, where the design process began five years ago, was on the forefront of really trying to take green architecture to the next level – minimizing the energy and water needed to operate the house, reducing the raw materials needed to build, and allowing this agenda of sustainability to play a key role in driving the design as opposed to being afterthoughts.

The design process was extremely collaborative including experts in thermal performance, rammed earth, water harvesting and energy analysis. This project was the first LEED Platinum custom home on the Monterey Peninsula and California’s entire Central Coast. In addition to providing enough photovoltaic to exceed our building’s electric needs, we are also exceeding our water needs for landscape irrigation by harvesting and storing rainwater. Both of these trends are now taking foothold in the community.
Site Plan ( Drawing ©: Feldman Architecture )
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?

We like to approach each project’s design as a unique response to a specific site and a specific client. Our thoughts about space-making and form-giving as well as our knowledge of materials and detailing are an evolution. Specifically, this was our first rammed-earth project and our first water-harvesting project. What we learned about these aspects, as well as a number of materials and details that were discovered in this project, have found their way into newer projects.
Floor Plan ( Drawing ©: Feldman Architecture )
Sustainability Section ( Drawing ©: Feldman Architecture )
Email interview conducted by John Hill
Caterpillar House

Carmel, CA


Feldman Architecture
San Francisco, CA

Design Principal
Jonathan Feldman

Structural Engineer
Yu Strandberg Engineering

Landscape Architect
Joni Janecki + Associates

Lighting Designer
Revolver Design

Interior Designer
Jeffers Design Group

Rammed Earth Consultant
Rammed Earth Works

Energy Consultant
Monterey Energy Group

Water Consultant
Earthcraft Landscape Design

LEED for Homes Consultant
Michael Heacock + Associates

LEED for Homes Provider
Davis Energy Group

Bright Green Strategies

Sliding Doors and Windows

Site Area
31 acres

Building Area
2,800 sf