Solar Umbrella house

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Solar Umbrella house, Venice, California, Lawrence Scarpa and Angela Brooks Architects

The Solar Umbrella House is a private residence in Venice, Los Angeles, California, remodeled using active and passive solar design strategies to enable the house to function independent of the electrical grid. The design was inspired by Paul Rudolph’s 1953 Umbrella House for Philip Hiss's Lido Shores, Sarasota, development. Originally a small 650-square-foot (60 m2) bungalow, the owners added 1,150 sq ft (107 m2) in 2005, remodeling it in such a way that the house is almost 100% energy neutral.

The building[edit]

Solar Umbrella as seen from Woodlawn Ave

Inspired by Paul Rudolph's Umbrella House of 1953, the Solar Umbrella House produces 95% of its electricity from solar energy.(Solar Umbrella Movie Clip)[1] The American Institute of Architects listed it as a top-ten green project for 2006. Designed by award-winning architects Lawrence Scarpa and Angela Brooks of the architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa.,[2] The Solar Umbrella House establishes a precedent for the next generation of California modernist architecture. Passive and active solar design strategies render the residence nearly 100% energy neutral.[3]

Solar Umbrella from the garden

The first thing you think-when you park outside the Solar Umbrella is "This cannot be a house or a building of any kind”. There appear to be no walls, no windows, no roof only for anthracite-black panels, as slender as playing cards and seemingly as weightless, laid delicately on the top edges of a pair of concrete pillars soaring 25 feet (7.6 m) into the air”. You see right through it. The other houses on Woodlawn Avenue are teens bungalows and 20s Spanish Colonial Revivals: four walls clad in wood or stucco, anchored to the street by low-slung roofs and sturdy front porches. This wafer-thin superstructure is something else altogether-more air than building. Barely touching the ground, the Scarpa-Brooks house, designed by the husband-and-wife architects, is a kite among stegosaurs.[4]

Solar Umbrella living room

Richard Koshalek, former President of Art Center College in Pasadena and current Director of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, considers Solar Umbrella an important house at a critical time. “A new generation of architects is intent on environmentally sustainable designs,” he said, “and Mr. Scarpa and Ms. Brooks-along with Thom Mayne and others-are at the forefront of this optimistic trend.”[5]

Solar Umbrella dining room

The Solar Umbrella House is an extension of an initial remodel of a 1920s bungalow. Conserving the original form of the bungalow, Scarpa and Brooks took advantage of the "through lot" condition of the site, reversing the front and back of the house. This strategy allows the house to gain its needed southern exposure for the solar array while also connecting the living area with the back garden space. The result is a contrasting expression with the entry facade of the solar array facing one street, and the more quiet and modest original structure facing the other street.

The organizing principles of the house hinge on the blurring and extension of inside to outside, such strategies create dynamic ways to experience and incorporate the entire environment. A simple but elegant concrete swimming pool cascades along the garden's western edge, linking the outdoor garden to the house. The living room has large sliding glass doors that open out onto the garden, literally erasing the boundary of inside and out. The canopy of solar panels provides a covered space from which the garden below can be viewed from the second floor.[6]

Environmental aspects[edit]

Solar Umbrella stair

Scarpa and Brooks have defined their careers by integrating high style with sustainability. [7]

Passively adapted to the temperate-arid climate of southern California, the major design feature of the Solar Umbrella is a shading solar canopy. Rather than deflecting sunlight, this contemporary solar canopy uses 89 amorphous photovoltaic panels to transform the sunlight into usable energy, providing 95% of the residence's electricity. At the same time, it screens large portions of the structure from direct exposure to the intense southern California sun, protecting the body of the building from thermal heat gain. A net meter provided by the City of Los Angeles connects the photovoltaic array to the grid, eliminating both the need for a storage system and the time-of-use charges associated with traditional electricity use.[8]

An integrated solar heating system supplies heat through the concrete floors of the new addition. Three solar hot-water panels preheat the domestic hot water, and a fourth heats the swimming pool. The home's daylit interior requires no electric lighting on sunny days. The house is outfitted with energy-efficient appliances and both interior and exterior lighting-control systems. Materials were selected based on their effects on the environment and indoor air quality.[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

Solar Umbrella master bedroom

AIA Los Angeles Chapter, Special "Decade Award" in 2007

National AIA Honor Awards for Architecture in 2007

National AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects in 2006

National AIA Housing PIA Award in 2006; Category: Innovation in Housing Design

Record Houses, Architectural Record in 2005

AIA Design Award, California Chapter in 2005

Building Design & Construction Magazine Design Award in 2005

AIA Los Angeles Chapter Design Award in 2005


  1. ^ The American Institute of Architects
  2. ^ Brooks + Scarpa.
  3. ^ Deborah Snoonian, “Solar Umbrella House,” Architectural Record Houses, April 2005, p. 176-181
  4. ^ Greg Goldin, “Green Piece,” Los Angeles Magazine, October 2005, p. 156-160
  5. ^ Sydney LeBlanc, "Going Solar," Written for the New York Times, May 17, 2005
  6. ^ Nancy Solomon, Robert Ivy, Architecture: Celebrating the Past, Designing the Future: Commemorating 150 Years of the American Institute of Architects. St. Martin’s Press, September 2008, p. 53
  7. ^ Susan Freudenheim, “Living / The Scarpa Home; Hot Stuff; High style meets sustainability in the Venice home of two architects,” Los Angeles Times Magazine, September 25, 2005, p. 34-38
  8. ^ “What is sustainable building, anyway?,” Photon International: The Photovoltaic Magazine, November 2006, p. 122
  9. ^ Judith Stock, “The Solar House,” Smart Home Owner, No. 33, Jan/Feb 2007, p. 14-16

External links[edit]