Home » step inside mork-ulnes architects’ ‘frame house’ in new short film

design after disaster


In 2017, Mork-Ulnes Architects designed a trio of concrete guesthouses on this property in the Sonoma hills in northern California. Just a few months later, wildfires engulfed the area, destroying the family’s main residence but leaving the new guest accommodation intact. The clients then entrusted Mork-Ulnes Architects to design a new home that could better withstand future wildfires. The designers responded with ‘Frame House’, a two storey dwelling with a fire-resistant concrete shell. 


‘After the Nuns Fire of 2017 ravaged the surrounding area and damaged the property, the clients asked us to design a new house that would be armored against future wildfires,’ says Casper Mork-Ulnes. ‘The concept was to design an all concrete house that is wrapped in a sacrificial layer of wood that gave a nod to the local vernacular farm structures in the area – so that its materiality still feels like it fits with a Northern California home despite being structurally of concrete.’

images by Bruce Damonte





Mork-Ulnes Architects looked to California Modernism to design Frame House, adopting elements of openness and indoor-outdoor living but giving them a contemporary reinterpretation.


‘Having lived in California for a very long time, I am influenced by the West Coast modernists, Koenig, Neutra, Ain and their contemporaries,’ continues Mork-Ulnes. ‘Those houses, with their sense of openness, explore issues of light and space that are fundamental for me as well; as a Norwegian, I am always drawn to the psychological importance of light and air in architecture.’


The rectangular floor plan is defined by a structural gridwork, the modules of which vary in width and wall finish depending on the public or private function. The architect explains,‘A deep loggia and a repetitive grid of columns creates the structure of the house. The loggia creates both a respite from the hot Sonoma sun and a rhythmic pattern that provides the order and framework for the house. The grid structure defines the functions of the house and whether they are introverted or extroverted to the site depending on if they are filled in with a void of glass or solid wall.’

step inside mork-ulnes architects' wildfire resistant ‘frame house’ in new short film
Frame House takes its name from its exposed concrete structure



As part of their brief, the clients wanted to enjoy indoor-outdoor living spaces and views from every room. In response, the team planned an open social area on the ground floor with kitchen, dining and living spaces. Operable glass doors extend this space out to timber decked terraces on the east and west facing frontages. Deep concrete overhangs on these sides help mitigate solar gain. The southern elevation is entirely opaque while the completely glazed northern façade provides panoramic views towards Manzanita Canyon.


A small circulation and service core leads residents upstairs to the private floor, which contains four bedrooms. To continue the light, open character of the ground floor, Mork-Ulnes Architects inserted a large void into the upper level that’s connected by a catwalk.

step inside mork-ulnes architects' wildfire resistant ‘frame house’ in new short film
the interiors are bathed in natural light



As for materials, the clients were keen to recreate some of the warmth of their original house. The residence’s concrete shell is therefore clad with a sacrificial surface layer of western red cedar siding as a nod to the area’s vernacular agrarian architecture as well as to soften its visual impact on the site. The interiors continue this fusion of cool stone and warm timber with bleached Douglas fir surfaces and concrete floors.


Considering the damage caused to the original house in 2017, the new project includes added measures to protect against wildfires such as non-combustible roofing material and a sprinkler system. A solar field and power wall battery system are connected to the well and water supply pump to ensure function in emergency. Mork-Ulnes Architects also integrated passive and active environmental strategies including the use of natural lighting and shading, extensive cross-ventilation, radiant heating, and an onsite photovoltaic system that offsets the property’s electricity usage and powers the back-up batteries in case of a power outage or future wildfire.

step inside mork-ulnes architects' wildfire resistant ‘frame house’ in new short film
a catwalk connects the upper floor

step inside mork-ulnes architects' wildfire resistant ‘frame house’ in new short film
the master bedroom suite boasts panoramic views

step inside mork-ulnes architects' wildfire resistant ‘frame house’ in new short film
the residence also features an outdoor pool

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