enter the “frame house” of mork-ulnes architects in a new short film

disaster recovery design

In 2017, Architects Mork-Ulnes designed a trio of concrete guesthouses on this property in the North Sonoma Hills California. A few months later, wildfires engulfed the area, destroying the family’s primary residence but leaving the new guesthouse intact. The clients then entrusted Mork-Ulnes Architects with the design of a new residence that could better withstand future forest fires. The designers responded with “Frame House,” a two-story dwelling with a fire-resistant concrete shell.

“After the 2017 Nuns Fire tore through the surrounding area and damaged the property, clients asked us to design a new home that would be shielded against future wildfires,” said Casper Mork-Ulnes. “The concept was to design an all-concrete house wrapped in a sacrificial layer of wood that nodded to local vernacular agricultural structures in the area – so that its materiality still felt like it fit in in a Northern California home despite its structure. of concrete.’

pictures of Bruce Damonte


Mork-Ulnes Architects turned to California Modernism to design Frame House, embracing elements of openness and indoor-outdoor living, but giving them a contemporary reinterpretation.

“Having lived a very long time in California, I am influenced by the West Coast modernists, Koenig, Neutra, Ain and their contemporaries”, continues Mork-Ulnes. “These houses, with their sense of openness, explore questions of light and space that are also fundamental for me; as a norwegian i am always drawn to the psychological importance of light and air in architecture.

The rectangular floor plan is defined by a structural mesh whose modules vary in width and wall finish depending on the public or private function. The architect explains,“A deep loggia and a repeating grid of columns create the structure of the house. The loggia creates both respite from the hot Sonoma sun and a rhythmic pattern that provides order and frame to the home. The grid structure defines the functions of the house and whether they are introverted or extroverted to the site depending on whether they are filled with a glass void or a solid wall.

step inside mork-ulnes architects' fireproof 'frame house' in new short film
Frame House takes its name from its exposed concrete structure

As part of their brief, the clients wanted to enjoy indoor-outdoor living spaces and views from every room. In response, the team planned an open social space on the ground floor with kitchen, dining and living areas. Opening glass doors extend this space onto wooden terraces on the east and west facing facades. Deep concrete overhangs on these sides help mitigate solar gain. The south elevation is completely opaque while the fully glazed north facade offers a panoramic view of the Manzanita Canyon.

A small circulation and service core leads residents to the private floor, which contains four bedrooms. To continue the light and open character of the ground floor, Mork-Ulnes Architects inserted a large void in the upper level which is connected by a walkway.

step inside mork-ulnes architects' fireproof 'frame house' in new short film
the interiors are bathed in natural light

In terms of materials, customers were keen to recreate some of the warmth of their original home. The concrete envelope of the residence is therefore covered with a sacrificial surface layer of western red cedar siding in a nod to the vernacular agrarian architecture of the region as well as softening its visual impact on the site. Interiors continue this fusion of cool stone and warm wood with bleached Douglas fir surfaces and concrete floors.

Given the damage to the original home in 2017, the new project includes additional wildfire protection measures such as non-combustible roofing materials and a sprinkler system. A solar field and an electric wall battery system are connected to the well and the water supply pump to ensure operation in case of emergency. Mork-Ulnes Architects has also incorporated passive and active environmental strategies including the use of natural lighting and shading, extensive cross ventilation, radiant heating and site photovoltaic system that compensates for the property’s electricity consumption and powers the backup batteries in the event of a power outage or future forest fire.

step inside mork-ulnes architects' fireproof 'frame house' in new short film
a walkway connects the upper floor

step inside mork-ulnes architects' fireproof 'frame house' in new short film
the master suite offers a panoramic view

step inside mork-ulnes architects' fireproof 'frame house' in new short film
the residence also has an outdoor swimming pool

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