Perched on East Gros Ventre Butte overlooking Jackson Hole, Wyoming sits one of the most refined resorts in the rocky mountain region. Amangani, as the resort is known, means “peaceful home.” It is a serene environment where guests find that all of their worldly needs are met. It is also a place where the environment has been carefully tended to, in terms of the sensitive high desert ecosystem of the Grand Tetons and the off-site impacts of the development. Located near the gateway to Grand Teton National Park, the resort sits at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet amid a landscape of priceless beauty.
One of Amangani’s environmental stewards is Mitch Blake of the Jackson-based architectural firm Ward + Blake. Blake’s firm has designed many of Amangani’s villas, the private homes that form part of the resort community. Describing his firm’s approach as “a contemporary execution of traditional materials,” Blake says that in the Amangani projects, as with all of the firm’s work, “we take our cues from the land and try to respect it as much as possible and develop the architecture around it.”
Location Jackson, Wyoming
Client Daryl and Deborah Sybert
Program Energy-efficient, single-family house conforming with Homes of Amangani covenants
Size 5823 ft2
Completion October 2013
Architect Ward + Blake Architects
Structural Engineers McNeil Engineering
Landscape Architect David Weaver & Associates
Interior Design Grand Design Group
Contractor Andrew Parker Construction
Cabinets, Entry Door, & Interior Doors Falls Cabinet
Tile & Countertops West Valley Tile & Marble
Windows & Exterior Doors Peak Glass, Jeld Wen
Sod Roof Membrane FiberTite roofing membrane with American Wick Drain Corp. “Amerigreen RS 50” drain mat
HVAC Climate Master, Triangle Tube, Grundfos
Plumbing Kohler, Grohe, Delta, Mirabelle, Elkay, Zuma, Zurn
Appliances Wolf, Subzero, Asko, Bosch, Maytag
One of Ward + Blake’s most recently completed projects at Amangani, a house known as Aman 10 (which was commissioned by an orthopaedic surgeon from Ohio) is a compelling example of Blake’s fine touch as an architect, as well as his environmental ethics. A passive solar approach with triple glazed windows, super insulation, a ground source heat pump, and an ultra-tight building envelope all conspired to make Aman 10 a home that can withstand the oscillation between intense heat and cold, high winds and blistering UV rays that characterize the Tetons, while providing a luxurious retreat for its owners. Nestled into a hillside of native high desert vegetation, Blake used the slope of the Aman 10 site to his advantage to capture views of surrounding peaks, maximize solar gain, and steer storm water runoff toward infiltration basins and away from areas that were vulnerable to erosion. A palette of sandstone and cedar runs throughout the interior and exterior spaces of Aman 10, with copious glass surfaces mitigating the connection between the cozy living areas and the dramatic landscape outside. Vertical wood slats front or overhang many of the glazed surfaces creating the dappled effect of a brise soleil, while reducing heat absorption on the south-facing exposures.
As you pull up to the house, the first and most striking impression is the series of sod roofs that seem to cascade down the hill, blending the residence into the surrounding landscape. Aman 10 boasts nearly 6,000 square feet of living space, though it barely makes a dent in the picture perfect horizon that surrounds it. “Sod roofs are a really nice way to make garages disappear,” Blake says. “By burying them into the hillside and putting a sod roof on them, they kind of go away and the rest of the features of the house can come forward.”
Of course sod roofs also help soak up the intense downpours that are common in this part of the country and add a thick layer of insulation to the home. There is a reason that cold climate cultures—from Iceland to Norway to American pioneers in North Dakota used sod as a building material. For Ward + Blake, sod roofs are a good fit for their high-elevation design practice. The firm designed their first sod roof more than two decades ago, and over time it has become a prominent feature of their signature style. “We used to call it the crackpot factor because people thought we were out of our minds to put sod roofs on homes—now they call it sustainability,” says Blake.
From an engineering perspective, sod roofs are heavy. The steel and wood frame of the home handles the load with ease, but was also designed with sustainability in mind, explains Matthew Roblez of McNeil Engineering, the Sandy, Utah-based firm who was responsible for the structural components of the house. “Steel is almost the most sustainable construction material there is,” he says. “When you build a steel building, you’re using old cars, chopped up rebar and other re- cycled metal products.”
Roblez has a similar perspective on the structural wood used in Aman 10. The plywood web joists and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) he specified come from sustainable tree farms, not old-growth forests. Dimensional lumber of a sufficient size to use for structural purposes is hard to come by from tree farm sources because the trees are harvested at such a small diameter. Instead, the technique is essentially to chop them up in small pieces and compress them back together into structural grade wood products. “People tend to think that timber isn’t sustainable, that it’s chopping down forests, which is a misconception,” Roblez explains.
Peak Glass, another local company, supplied the windows and doors for Aman 10— high-quality, energy-efficient products from Jeld-Wen’s Custom Line. A representative of the company notes that they’re “seeing more and more demand for high efficiency glass products in higher market areas like Jackson.”
Mitch + Blake has designed and built nearly a dozen Amangani villas so far, many with the help of McNeil Engineering and, increasingly, with doors, windows and other components from local suppliers like Peak Glass. Jackson Hole is a small town kind of place with a big vision, and it’s increasingly turning toward sustainable design. The Teton County government has gotten involved, offering significant incentives for energy efficient buildings—the Aman 10 building permit was essentially free as a result. “And those permits are normally really expensive here,” says Blake.