Pugh + Scarpa Atchitects | Solar Umbrella

Pugh + Scarpa Atchitects

Solar Umbrella

Model Rebuild - When remodelling their own residence Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa could never have imagined the press and accolades that would be bestowed upon a build designed around their own very personal needs. Economical, solar powered, solar water heating, nearly off the power grid and with a fitting yet aesthetically contrasting extension. A rear extension that embraces the house's 1920's bungalow origins and pays homage to its design sake, the Paul Rudolph Umbrella House of 1953.

Overview and Plot
The lot, in Venice California, typical of the area, has two road frontages. This allowed the house's orientation to be flipped, the crux of this build. With the living area and kitchen behind now facing the larger rear garden, an additional bedroom was added upstairs, and the second bedroom converted to an office. Most of all, the flip orients the house to the southern sun allowing the sun's energy to be stored in the concrete eastern and western walls and floor.

The extension has the majority of its glazing along the warmth facing southern wall, with northern glazing opening up for cross ventilation. The architects describe it as "global regionalism," Californian indoor outdoor flow, wrapped in modern technology using recycled and sustainable materials, offsetting the use of concrete with gains made through its thermal storing properties that lead to lower power bills. Overhangs regulate the sun in its strongest months and double glazing with a low-E film , framed in aluminium with thermal breaks, control the wind and indoor environment. To save on materials the solar panels themselves form the outer canopy and Solar Umbrella, shading the house. With the rear set up, insulation was blown into the walls and floors of the original wing and operable skylights in the kitchen and bathroom provide natural light and ventilation whilst maintaining privacy.


In winter, warmth is provided through radiant in-floor heating powered partly by one of three solar hot water panels. Two are used to pre-heat the domestic hot water before it gets to the gas-fired hot water heater and the other to heat the pool. These panels halved the gas use of the house which is now 2.5 times as big! As usual there was initial outlay for the solar water heaters and panels, which 10 years.

Living area extension

Although the double height extension sets the house apart from its neighbours, the fact that it is at the rear facing the alley, contrary to most of the houses on the block, mean its northern facing traditional fa├žade, lets it fit in with the Joneses. The services are concealed up the side of the house, and a bike rack just inside the new front gate provides mobility to the nearby shops (apparently a novelty in the US).


Well thought out landscaping incorporates gravel, to allow the plot to drain and prevent it from heating up like large paved areas do, and planting is drought tolerant, with species that appeal to the abundant hummingbirds in the area. The new pond and pool also help regulate the temperate and composting was also included as part of the landscape design.

A relatively simple layout provides for both open plan living and more intimate work and rest areas.
Downstairs the office, with access to the main street, sits beside the second bedroom and main bathroom on the eastern wall. The living room and kitchen take the southern and western walls respectively. As well as allowing heat to rise up and out the upstairs windows, the industrial like steel stairs link the downstairs area to the more private master bedroom with en-suite.

The Results
The house now provides an additional open plan living area ideal for the couple's son, connecting outdoor play and space indoors. The Solar Umbrella plays its dual role, keeping the house cool and shaded in summer and warm through its solar panel composition in winter. Utilitarian, the house is built to be lived in and enjoyed rather than as a show-piece 'typical' modern build. This to me is what makes this a home.


Name of Project: Solar Umbrella, Venice, California, USA
Architect: Pugh + Scarpa Architects
Completed: April 2005
Total project cost excluding land: US$390,000.00
Usage: 3 permanent occupants 105 hours/week, 15 visitors/week at 3 hrs per visit average.

Information courtesy of: Pugh + Scarpa Architects