David Hertz Architects FAIA & The Studio of Environmental Architecture

Panel House


he house is located on 28 x 89 foot lot on the Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach. Due to the lots’ long and narrow dimensions, the design intent is to create a series of angled walls and reveals in the side elevations in order to provide for view corridors down the side yards to the ocean. The space between the tapered walls is used for pivot windows, which allow for the modulation of the natural prevailing breezes through the house.

The narrow structure afforded the opportunity to create a clear span structural system, eliminating the need for any interior load bearing walls. By omitting interior walls, natural ventilation air paths can flow from the Ocean Front through the entire interior and out the Leeward side of the building. To create the clear span spaces, a steel building system of wide flange steel columns and beams, diagonal brace frames with composite steel and concrete decking and concrete slabs are used to create a rigid diaphragm so that no shear walls are required.

The building’s skin is made of pre-fabricated panels, typically used for walk in refrigeration buildings. The panels are manufactured out of 6-inch thick foam skinned with thin sheet aluminum that is painted with a Kynar paint finish. The 6-inch thick panels are 30 inches wide x 30 feet tall and weigh less than a hundred pounds each. Two men simply install each panel, which orient vertically with an interlocking joint and are screwed to the closure plate at the floors. The panels are designed with a dull aluminum finish creating a surface that has a subtle reflectivity of the changing colors of the sky and sunsets.

The clear-span structure and use of full-height glass on the west elevation provides an uninterrupted view of the beach. The glass window on the first level is situated on a worm drive gear system that lowers and raises the window. Stopping at a height of 3 feet above the floor, there is no need for an additional railing as the window serves that purpose.

Two issues arise from having such a transparent west facing façade, the need for increased privacy, and implementation of solar modulators. A system of aluminum louvers was designed to combat both issues, minimizing the solar gain and providing the desired privacy.

In addition to stairways, vertical circulation is addressed through the use of a glass pneumatic elevator. The elevator is the quickest and easiest access to the rooftop where there are photovoltaic panels, solar panels and a never-ending pool. Space is tight on this narrow lot, and requires the use of every available surface to achieve the sustainability, functionality and the desired quality of life.

Environmental Features

  • Solar Hydronic radiant heating
  • Photovoltaic solar electric system providing electricity
  • Solar system comprised of 14 south-facing Photovoltaic panels and an inverter, production 2.3 kilowatts of energy per day – sending energy back to the grid
  • Solar collector providing hot water
  • Louvers are used in shade applications as blinds and window coverings to direct views as well as minimizing solar gain.
  • Automated skylights for natural ventilation control – programmed on set point thermostatic and humidistat control
  • Pivot windows are controlled manually to modulate airflow from the ocean – opening up the house to the prevailing breeze for natural ventilation
  • Staircase acts as a solar chimney, the hot air rises through the open space and exits at the top through the skylight
  • Electrically operated window, 9’h x 15’w, situated on screw jacks that lower the window
  • High performance pre-fabricated manufactured refrigeration panels used to create the exterior walls
  • Panels installed at single 30” wide x 30’ tall sections from basement to roof, installed in a few days using only 2 people with almost no construction and demolition waste
  • Typically residential walls have an R-value of R-11 (insulation rating), these 6” panels are R-48, allowing for greater insulation and reduced energy needs
  • The panels are coated with aluminum sheets, which is the final finish for both the interior and exterior
  • There is no wood framing in the house
  • Steel with highly recycled content
  • FCS certified walnut cabinetry and counters in the kitchen and bathroom
  • Concrete floors

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panel house

Facing the Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach, a series of angled walls flare out to reveal view corridors to the coastline. Pivot windows between the tapered walls enable the modulation of prevailing breezes through the house. A clear span structural system across the narrow site eliminates the need for interior load-bearing walls, facilitating the uninhibited flow of air paths for natural ventilation. A totalizing steel building system of wide flange columns and beams, diagonal brace frames, and composite concrete decking realizes a rigid diaphragm that doesn’t need shear walls.

The building’s skin is made of pre-fabricated refrigeration panels, which have a 6-inch thick foam core skinned with thin aluminum. Each panel is 30 inches wide x 30 feet tall, and light enough (100 lbs) for two people to install each one. The dull aluminum finish subtly changes with the colors of the sky.

Project Details

Year: 2006
Location: Venice, CA
Typology: single family residence
Program: 3 bed, 3.5 bath
Size: 3,900 sqft
Sustainable Features:
  • photovoltaic panels
  • solar collector
  • hydronic radiant heating
  • automated, natural ventilation
  • thermostatic and humidistatic controls
  • solar chimney
  • prefabricated panels for almost no construction, demolition waste
  • aluminum panels with R-48 insulation rating lowers energy use
  • steel with high recycled content
  • FCS certified walnut cabinetry and counters
Photography: Juergen Nogai, Yoshio Futagawa, Fawn Art

2009 American Architecture Award

2009 American Architecture Award



  • California Cool (book)
  • New Green Homes
  • ArcCA Design Awards Issue Design Education
  • INFILL: New Houses for Urban Sites
  • GA Houses 113
  • Design Diffusion News, featuring Panel House, 11/09
  • The Inc. Life
  • Dreaming Green: Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire
  • Venice CA, by Michael Webb (book)
  • Dwell
  • Angeleno Magazine
  • Interior Design Russia
  • West Magazine
  • GA Houses 96
  • Smart Homeowner Magazine
  • InHabitat
  • LifeScapes