The Housing Tower at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is poised to be an example of wise design and construction for many years into the future, and remains an example, rare in North America, of the simple efficiency of water-based radiant cooling and heating. Constructed with a systems density comparable, metaphorically, to a modern day automobile, it packs its 80 rooms into a volume 30% less than conventional construction would allow, and uses less than half the energy. The footprint was reduced to minimize the project’s stance in the landscape, but truculent zoning codes limited maximum building height, so rooms have 7′-6″ celing height typically, reduced to 7′-0″ under the micro-service-chases built into the entry and bathroom ceiling. With fresh outside air and no recirculated heating and cooling air, a dormatory room is as fresh as standing outside. Careful design of the space and energy systems creates a minimally appointed room with no sacrifice of comfort.
While photographing, I stayed in the buliding for two days, moving in and out of many of the guest rooms, single mindedly following the light and incidentally basking in the peace and comfort of the space. Only after the second day did I remember the comments of many who, having evaluated the design purely based on dimensions, found these dormatories to be sized unjustifiaballly tight in every direction. The reality apparent in my visit was quite the opposite. Dimension and proportion are critical, and historic and cultural minimums are often not examples of our best design. Instead, they are standards developed to prevent bad design from turning worse. Kripalu demonstrates that, properly considered, big spaces can be fit quite comfortabally into small dimensions, and that, by carefully connecting the interior to the landscape, the spaciousness of the exterior can be borrowed to benefit the inside. The lesson at Kripalu is that one can go small and still get it quite right.
To photograph this buliding is to learn its place in the landscape, and to feel the value of materials carefully considered and confidently deployed. What is visible in Kripalu goes deep into its structure. A hand on a concrete wall feels its ability not only to keep the guest rooms quiet, but to hold the buliding up. Exterior solar screend made from cedar slats salvaged from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina bring an aroma into the room when the window is opened. Sliding the screen into place by hand, to reduce heat gain from the morning sun, one is connected to the wood, to the sun, and feels a palpable connection to the energy we use.