When a person thinks of a concrete building, they most likely imagine a drab, gray warehouse void of style and beauty. The word concrete itself carries a commercial connotation and doesn’t seem to fit into the vocabulary or imagery of an upscale residential neighborhood.
Not so at 1129 Oriole Road in the heart of Montecito. This address is the site of a home currently under construction that utilizes concrete in an innovative and exciting way. Designed by Ferguson-Ettinger Architects, Inc., the house is composed of “tilt-up” concrete walls that are made just as they sound-walls are cast on site then raised in place to form the house’s outer structure. Compared to typical home-building techniques that employ a “poured-in-place” method (that is, constructing forms for walls, pouring concrete into the forms and letting it dry, then removing and discarding the forms), the “tilt-up” process raises the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of construction.
Interestingly, the technology has been around for decades, Brett Ettinger explained in a recent interview, and the famous King’s Road House - built in West Hollywood in the 1920s and designed by Rudolph Schindler - is an example of this method’s potential for modern, widespread residential use. “Most people simply haven’t latched on to the idea of using tilt-up concrete to build homes,” Ettinger said.
The benefits of the practice are wide and varied, but are especially relevant for residents of Montecito and Southern California in general: tilt-up homes are inherently fireproof, waterproof, and overall resistant to the elements. In the event of a fire, concrete is able to resist and deflect flames much more easily than wood and plaster. The use of concrete is also quite environmentally friendly as any extra material is broken up and developed into walkways, drainage swales, and dry-stacked site walls for a complete recycling of construction materials on site.
The architects, in collaboration with the homeowners of 1129 Oriole Road, Jerry and Sandy Oshinsky, took this “green” aspect of concrete construction and applied it, plus some, toward their specific project. “[The homeowners] wanted a modern house that was also incredibly green,” Ettinger said. “We decided together that we wanted to really push the envelope and exploit any technology at our disposal to make the home as environmentally friendly and self-sustainable as possible.”
Pulling out all the stops, Ettinger and the hired builders, Clause Construction and Anacapa Concrete, are employing a fully integrated solar panel system that will provide 100 percent of the home’s power. And, in an attempt to incorporate aesthetics and functionality, Ettinger designed the panels themselves to completely mesh with the architecture - they are installed in the home’s roof right above the high, dramatic ceiling of the living room. Additionally, the house will boast two rooftop solar water heaters with a self-contained collector and storage tanks in order to further complement the home’s reliance on the sun’s energy.
Turning a drought-savvy eye to water conservation, Ettinger stated, “One hundred percent of the roof area will be used to collect and subsequently store rainwater on site in a 5,000 gallon underground cistern. This water will then be pumped for reuse as part of the high efficiency landscape irrigation system.” All plantings will also be drought tolerant and, additionally, all paving will be permeable in order to absorb rainwater and prevent run-off and erosion.
It is Ettinger’s hope that this home will inspire others - especially those rebuilding in the Montecito hills - to consider “tilt-up, green” construction when designing and building their houses. “We want to open up people’s eyes to the potential of this time-honored material,” Ettinger said of concrete. Even though the house is still far from completion, Ettinger expressed his satisfaction with the progress so far. “It already looks great, and it’s only going to get better.”