$99K House Series: The Octagon

The latest in Swamplot’s roundup of entries to the $99K House Competition: This home from Steve Pribyl of dbaArchitects in Los Angeles:

This design is for a relatively modest 1400 s.f. house that utilizes innovative techniques to create an energy-efficient residence. An ecologically friendly house will use minimal natural resources over the life of the house.

A high surface-to-volume ratio is desirable in order to use a minimal amount of raw materials during construction. A sphere is the most efficient shape to meet this criteria, but it isn’t practical in terms of existing timber framing technology. An octagon is the closest reasonable approximation of a sphere using tried and true construction materials and methods.


A minimal surface area is also necessary in order to reduce heat transfer, and therefore to use minimal natural resources in the daily operation of the house. Shading and natural ventilation are “givens.” In addition, the mass of the earth itself can be used to heat and cool the house. “Thermal mass” (concrete slab, concrete block wall) transfers heat to and from the earth and tempers the interior temperature. Rainwater is also collected for incidental uses around the house.

The external appearance of the house is an extension of the resource utilization. The house is no longer just a passive enclosure to insulate inhabitants from the environment. Operable devices, such as vents, fans, ducts, dampers, shades, and louvers, allow for infinite adjustment to direct airflow and heat transfer as exterior conditions dictate.

Initially these devices can be manually operated, depending on the season and the time of day. Ultimately, a network of heat sensors throughout the house will provide data to an automated system that will adjust as required to maintain the comfort of the occupants, with minimal supplementary mechanical heating and air conditioning.

Swamplot is featuring home designs by participants in the 99K House Competition sponsored earlier this year by the Rice Design Alliance and the Houston Chapter of the AIA. You can see all the competition entries Swamplot has featured so far on this page.

Images: Steve Pribyl, dbaArchitects