With a career background in product development, Carl Gish, co-founder and co-CEO of early-stage company Aro Homes, gets energized thinking about ways to improve products and create better services. His most recent business venture, with co-CEO Simon Boag, involves addressing the product at the center of people’s lives: homes.
“When you think of it, there isn’t any bigger, more expensive, or important product that anybody will ever buy,” declares Gish. “From a product perspective, homes are sort of the next-level thing.”
After months of research and hundreds of interviews with building experts, production home builders, and sustainability companies, the businessmen determined a big opportunity exists in the spec-built, infill space.
“We ended up starting with a mission to reimagine how single-family infill could be approached,” says Gish. “There’s millions of homes in the United States, and more than half of them are more than 40 years old. They weren’t designed or built for how people live today, and they certainly were not built with the environment in mind.”
By collaborating with award-winning global design practice Olson Kundig, the companies set out to design and build sustainable, carbon-negative homes faster and more efficiently than conventional homes.
“Olson Kundig was the ideal collaborator for a single-family home that is equally beautiful and good for the world and the environment,” states Gish. “They understand the critical importance of maximizing resource efficiency to create homes that are sustainable and remarkable to live in.”
Aro Homes and Olson Kundig recently unveiled their first completed residence in Mountain View, California, in September.
While the initial model was built on an empty lot in the Bay Area, the versatile approach is intended for widespread adoption in other markets.
“We expect the vast majority of our homes will be replacement,” says Gish, “homes that really need to be redeveloped.”
As Aro Homes scales its construction process, the builder intends to put more homes on the market more quickly and more affordably.
Construction and Systems
Utilizing a hybrid off-site/on-site construction strategy, Aro Homes builds its volumetric components at its plant in Sacramento, California, while doing construction on-site in parallel. According to the company, this can shorten the build time to just 90 days.
“The first one went very well,” says Gish. “For the second one, we’re already seeing massive improvements in terms of time and efficiency. We will build that house—and variations of it—over and over again.”
Engineered to use 67% less energy than the American Institute of Architects’ 2030 Challenge baseline, the homes feature a tight building envelope coupled with highly efficient systems, including low-voltage lighting, smart electrical panels, battery storage, electric heat pumps, high R-value windows, and high-velocity HVAC systems.
Leveraging passive design approaches, the homes also are oriented to maximize sunlight for the roof-mounted photovoltaic solar array, which will produce more electricity than the homes will use in a year and enough to offset its initial embodied carbon within 16 years.
Aro homes additionally offer an option for greywater reclamation and reuse, which further reduces water use by as much as 45% as compared with a standard home, reports the company.
“Because it’s all-electric, because of the insulation, because of the quality of the windows, because of the design and all the systems, it’s arguably one of the most environmentally friendly homes being built today,” adds Gish.
Floor Plan and Design
Each 3,000-square-foot home includes four bedrooms and an office space to flexibly accommodate a wide range of family sizes.
“The key differentiator of Aro Homes is in the duality of form and function,” says Blair Payson, principal and owner at Olson Kundig. “From a design perspective, this home fosters a high-quality architectural experience—including an emphasis on indoor/outdoor living, thoughtful adjacencies between interior program spaces, and lines of sight that deliberately frame exterior views or areas for art.”
At the entry, a steel canopy and handcrafted door handle provide an understated yet design-forward signature for the home, and act as the first touch point as residents approach the front door.
Inside the two-story home, the Olson Kundig team set up view corridors, incorporating shifts in axis so views out of the house are ensured to maximize outdoor connectivity while maintaining privacy. Axial views to the exterior were also integrated throughout everyday circulation paths, including the stairs, the back of the house, and unobstructed views from the front door.
“Jim Olson, Olson Kundig principal and founder, often talks about how living close to nature is the greatest luxury,” adds Payson. “For this house, we tried to subtly provide that connection with everyday paths.”
High-quality natural materials, including acetylated wood exterior siding, interior wood flooring, and metal roofing, were selected for their longevity as well as their ability to add warmth to the project.
“The end product is one of the most environmentally positive houses Olson Kundig has ever designed,” says Payson. “Ultimately, if this house can, in some small way, nudge the market to expect higher performance and higher-quality design, the impact could be exponential given the size of the single-family housing market.”
Location: Mountain View, California
Architect: Olson Kundig
Builder: Aro Homes
Project Size: 3,000 square feet
Completion Date: September 2023