An Eco-Pioneer’s Live-Work Lab

David Hertz incorporated recycled, FSC-certified wood such as ipe, mahogany, and fir into his airy McKinley House. PHOTOS: JUERGEN NOGAI

When David Hertz, of David Hertz Architects Inc., Studio of Environmental Architecture, began his McKinley House in 1995, he was not just building a home for his family—he was building his own laboratory for sustainable design. The house started as two buildings joined by a bridge, but Hertz doubled it into four connected structures with the purchase of an adjacent lot in 2000. The designer has since injected a variety of green systems and features into the space, including passive ventilation, solar paneling, radiant heating, sustainable woods (including ipe, mahogany, and fir), zero-VOC paints, high-performance glazing, vegetated roofs, and even edible landscaping. American Builders Quarterly spoke to Hertz about the influences behind his one-of-a-kind home.

Project Details

Name
McKinley House

Location
Venice, CA

Completed
2000

Architect
Studio of Environmental Architecture, David Hertz Architects, Inc.

ABQ: What sparked the design of McKinley House?
David Hertz: I’ve been involved in sustainable design since the energy crisis of the late 1970s, and McKinley is a manifestation of my interest in balancing the built environment with the natural environment. I’ve been particularly interested in air flow through and around structures and making a strong connection to nature and being part of the system.

ABQ: Was there anything at McKinley House that had never been done before?
DH: Nothing was completely new, but some strategies were ahead of their time, such as the combination of solar-radiant heat and natural ventilation. Structurally, we incorporated rammed-earth walls, which are made of compacted soil, and we used Syndecrete, which I invented.

ABQ: What is Syndecrete exactly?
DH: I had designed furniture and countertops out of concrete, but there were limitations because of its weight. So, I designed a material that is half the weight of concrete but with twice the tensile strength. It is made with fly ash reinforced with carpet fibers, and it’s innovative in its use of recycled materials as an aggregate.

Hertz has used his house as a test home for sustainable building techniques. As a result, the space was ahead of its time in combining natural ventilation with solar-radiant heating.
Hertz has used his house as a test home for sustainable building techniques. As a result, the space was ahead of its time in combining natural ventilation with solar-radiant heating.

ABQ: How does the McKinley House compare to your other projects?
DH: All my projects have to balance my aesthetic with the desires of the client, but this one represents my personal aesthetic. I don’t do traditional design; I focus on contemporary, organic, natural design. This house is warm in the way it works with materials rather than being stark, cold, and minimalist.

ABQ: Have your home’s green techniques and systems figured into your other projects?
DH:  A lot of the elements are used in other places, but every project is unique. We have projects in the Grenadine Islands, Marshall Islands, and [along] the Oregon coast, and all employ site-specific features appropriate to the climate. There are always opportunities to incorporate natural ventilation, even in the warmest and coldest climates.

Portions of Hertz’s home are made of Syndecrete, a material he invented. It’s half the weight of concrete but has twice the tensile strength.
Portions of Hertz’s home are made of Syndecrete, a material he invented. It’s half the weight of concrete but has twice the tensile strength.

ABQ: How has McKinley changed over the years?
DH: The house has evolved with our lifestyle—from a home for a young family with two kids to a live-work environment. It was designed with separate buildings that can serve alternative uses. As for technology, I’ve updated the systems to increase efficiency. Lighting has been converted from incandescent to compact fluorescent and now LED. I’ve put in new smart controls such as automatic shades and lights, and I’ve updated the media and smart-home systems.

ABQ: What else are you working on?
DH: We’re doing a lot of residential and commercial projects. We have a house in Malibu made from the wings and tail sections of a Boeing 747. That has never been done before. We’re doing more with hotels and resorts, and some of that has come from people who have seen how McKinley House is resort-like with its indoor-outdoor features. ABQ

The McKinley House is made up of four separate two-story buildings that all face an inner courtyard and connect with one another via bridges.
The McKinley House is made up of four separate two-story buildings that all face an inner courtyard and connect with one another via bridges.