Situated in Archuleta County, Colorado, near Pagosa Springs, Asterisk is four miles south of US160, sixty miles east of Durango, Colorado, and thirty-one miles west of Wolf Creek Pass. It is twenty miles directly north of the New Mexico border. The San Juan Mountains, an east-west range, lie sixteen miles north, and the South San Juan Mountains, a north-south range, lie sixteen miles to the east. It is located on a seven acre lot in a rural subdivision in rolling terrain at 7,340 feet above sea level. Asterisk is served by the local water district and by underground telephone and electric service. Ten Mb/sec DSL is available from CenturyLink.
The local soil features a great deal of decomposed manco shale, which is dark gray. The trees are mostly ponderosa pine and juniper with some douglas fir, pinion, cottonwood, and aspen. The brush is predominantly gambel oak with many other species such as chokecherry, serviceberry, snowberry, squaw current, mountain mahogany, rabbit brush, and some sumacs. There are many kinds of wild flowers and grasses scattered throughout. Flowers bloom continuously from March through October.
Asterisk is landscaped to look like an enhanced version of the natural landscape. All the plant materials are xeric and were established by drip irrigation. Except in very dry conditions, little or no irrigation is now required. Ponderosa, mugo, and austrian pines were planted along with several kinds of juniper. Several kinds of sumac, along with gambel oak, chokecherry, serviceberry, and siberian peashrub, were also included. Virginia creeper is used as both a ground cover and a climbing vine on the tower. Yucca and russian sage are also employed. Many stumps and logs weathered silvery gray have been incorporated into the landscape design.
There's nothing like it. Though Asterisk the house is made of conventional materials, and its architectural elements have been familiar since antiquity, the combination used in its construction plus the realization of its design goals makes it dramatically different.
Structurally, Asterisk is a monolithic thin-shell concrete building. Its exterior surfaces are of wood, stone, stucco, glass, and earth with trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, and wild grasses. Its interior surfaces are mostly of wood, tile, plaster, and glass.
Architecturally, the main portion of Asterisk is made by joining six barrel-vaulted vertical-walled branches at a central intersection. Its floor plan resembles the typographical character "*"; hence, the name Asterisk. Its roof lies under at least three feet of earth. It, therefore, is an underground dwelling.
Asterisk is a successful passive solar design. The backup heating systems have been almost never used for over eleven years.
There are many goals which jostled for position in the design of Asterisk:
Make a house suited to its particular site, its region, its climate
Make a house that relates to the environment outdoors and gives easy access to it
Make a house that is airy, light, quiet, comfortable, and a joy to live in
Make a house that will last a very long time and require little maintenance
Make a house that is highly fire resistant
Make a house conducive to health
Make a house that will stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer using little or no fuel and electrical energy
Make a house that largely runs itself without complex control equipment
Once an underground design for Asterisk was settled on another goal became apparent: Make a house that violates the common expectations for underground structures--that they are dark, damp, cool, closed in, in short, basementy. Given the previous goals, this one would be realized without further effort.
Passive solar design requires two things: windows which permit heat from the sun to enter the structure and thermal mass within to store that heat. Three of the six branches of Asterisk end in window walls with as much glass area as possible. One glass wall faces due south. The other two face sixty degrees to either side of south. Because the house is located at 7,340 feet above sea level, excessive solar gain in the summer is hardly a problem. This means that the windows can be designed for maximum solar gain along with good insulating value. The doors in all three walls are glass, too, and are subject to the same considerations. Because the shell is concrete and the floor is tile over concrete, there is enough thermal mass around the living area to store heat for many days. Its thermal mass is equivalent to more than 200,000 lbs of water.
Connection to Outside
Of the building’s six branches, five communicate with the outside. There are the three window walls, each with glass doors, in the two bedrooms and the living room. A fourth branch goes into the tower where the main entrance is located. A fifth branch holds the kitchen where there is a door into the garage. Only the sixth branch, which is the study, has no direct path to the exterior, though it has many indirect ones. The tower also has a roof deck, and it may be accessed through stairs and an easy to operate weatherproof hatch.