The Bigelow Residence upends the currently popular notion of having an open-concept house by creating three pavilion living spaces.

Hallways? Where you’re going, you don’t need hallways—but you might need a bridge. Ellis and Ron Bigelow’s residence in Menlo Park, California, turns the inside outdoors by replacing corridors with a bridge that connects two of the home’s three pavilions at the second floor. The idea places circulation space away from the home in order to minimize stagnant air; the remainder can be flushed by the home’s ducted fan system.

“This house needs to respond to its context,” says Dave Swetz, a designer at Butler Armsden Architects (BAA) and the project manager for the Bigelow residence. Ron, a retired environmental law attorney from Houston, told BAA that he wanted a green home that also functioned like a typical home and was less concerned with green certifications. Even so, BAA president and principal Lewis Butler says, “When someone comes up with the idea of building a green house, we’re going to take it to [LEED] Platinum.”

The architects used their first LEED Platinum home, an AIA Award-winning residence in Tiburon, California, as a starting point. But instead of creating a dwelling meant to showcase all that green building could be (like the Tiburon home that netted a whopping 114 points), Butler and his team sought to create “a reasonable, down-the-middle, LEED Platinum house” and are expecting 99 points for their second LEED Platinum effort.

The understated result is still a net-zero residence with an innovative pavilion design that deconstructs how single-family homes function. The structure is actually a cluster of three buildings that can be operated separately but are meant to be used as one building. The zones are divided into service, sleeping, and living areas. These segments are not only used to regulate temperature, they are meant to encourage an indoor-outdoor lifestyle that responds to the building’s surroundings.


Certification LEED Platinum (expected)
Recycling 90% of existing home recycled or diverted from landfills
Materials Reclaimed redwood siding, fly-ash concrete, FSC-certified flooring, aluminum roof paneling
Water Hot-water recirculation pump, low-flow faucets and toilets, permeable pavers, high-efficiency drop irrigation
Energy Net zero, photovoltaics, insulated low-E windows and doors, 50% glazed exterior
Lighting Recessed LED lighting and surface mounted fluorescent lighting

“Let’s not jumble our kitchen, living, dining, and bedroom all in one constricting square but distribute these programs in a way that actually makes sense and serves the user,” Swetz says. Initially, the house was conceived in an L-shape, but a desire to pull the house apart pushed the structure to its unique form. Not only novel, the structure also allows one to look in all four directions when standing at the centrally located entryway nestled between the three pavilions. These undisturbed sight lines split the house spatially across the north-south and east-west axes to separate the sections organically.

With the exception of the home’s high-performance, low-E windows, supplied by Unilux and imported from Germany, the home is fully Californian. By sourcing the majority of its materials from within 500 miles of its Menlo Park location, Swetz and the BAA team created a unique house that captures the spirit of California. This includes using reclaimed redwood siding from neighboring Redwood City, highlighting the state’s Spanish heritage through elements like stucco walls, and highlighting the state’s Asian influences through the use of floating roof panes and the composition of the pavilions—an idea borrowed from the Japanese pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Nearly 100 percent of the Menlo Park project was recycled or diverted, including the Bigelows’ old tongue-and-groove ceilings, which BAA architect Reba Jones repurposed for her own home. The rest of the old building was repackaged as a possible kit home.