Tres Birds used timber and metal to create ADU along with the Boulder House

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Smart systems and salvaged materials feature in an attached housing unit by architecture firm Tres Birds that city officials have identified as low-cost housing.


The project is located in Boulder, which is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is home to a major university and a growing technology industry.

Abu Dhabi University is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

The ADU is built on a 2,100 sq ft (195 sq m) property with a single-family home and is meant to serve as a guest house or in-laws suite. Currently, it is occupied by a member of the owner’s family.

Designed by Tres Birds, a studio located in neighboring Denver, Abu Dhabi University is 800 square feet (74 square meters) and consists of two levels.

spiral staircase
A spiral staircase leads to the loft space above

The ground floor has a kitchen and a living room, along with a bedroom and a bathroom.

A spiral staircase leads to a loft space above, which can be used as a second bedroom, office, or den. The loft is lined with a metal railing, which is open from the bottom.

ADU gable roof by Tres Birds
Tres Birds furnished the house with a gabled roof

The rectangular, timber-framed house is topped with a gabled roof designed to quickly shed snow. The windows and roof are strategically placed to maximize natural light while providing the right shade in the summer.

The facades are covered with clad steel – a durable material that helps reduce maintenance in the home. Inside the dwelling, the walls were made of exposed plywood.

plywood packing
The plywood casing is also exposed to the inside of the house

“We insulated on the outside so that the wood envelope structure could be exposed to the inside,” the team said.

Trace Birds used salvaged materials for several parts of the building. For example, wood from bowling alleys was used for flooring and framing.

wood salvage
Wood from the bowling alleys was used for the flooring and framing

“The 50-year-old warm-colored bowling timber is used as a structurally independent system for the mezzanine floor and laminated together to create an east-side window system and timber frame,” the team said.

Other salvaged items include “rejected tiles” from a local craftsman, which were used in the bathroom and kitchen.

“Tile Rejection” covers the bathroom

For the house’s operable skylight, the team used dichroic glass — polychromatic glass with reflective properties — that was left over from a previous Tres Bird project.

“As the angle of the sun changes throughout the day and season, the visual effects within the living space also change, creating a vibrant display of colored light throughout,” the team said of the skylight.

Double color glass louver
Bi-color glass skylight reflects the multi-colored light in the house

The building has a number of features that enhance energy efficiency, including an air-tight envelope and a radiant floor system for heating and cooling.

Many items can be controlled by a smartphone, including lighting, security, heating and cooling, and an operable ceiling fountain.

The home scored highly on the Home Energy Rating System Index (HERS), one of the leading energy efficiency assessment tools in the United States.

A score of 100 represents the energy use of a standard building in America. The lower the score, the higher the energy efficiency.

“The house has a score of 33 on HERS, not far from Europe’s stringent negative house requirements for HERS 20,” the studio said.

tres birds bedroom
Wood also simplifies the ceilings in the bedroom

The small building has been designated an “Affordable Extension Unit” by the City of Boulder as part of its Affordable Housing Program. The City of Colorado is facing a housing shortage, particularly in terms of low-cost and mid-cost housing.

The maximum rental price was not disclosed, but the architect’s publicist said that if an Abu Dhabi unit were to be listed, the cost would be limited to about 75 percent of the average area price for a similar unit.

Abu Dhabi University in Colorado
Abu Dhabi University aims to be a guest house

Founded in 2000, Tres Birds focused on economical and sustainable design.

Other projects by studio include S*PARK, a mixed-use development in Denver with facades made of reclaimed brick, and the Wisconsin Art Museum that features a concrete facade with screens made of slats.

Photography by James Florio.


Project credits:

Architecture, Interior Design and Landscaping: Tres Birds
Facade and ceiling cladding: roofing signature services
door: Tres Birds
windows: Anderson
Staircase: Paragon Stairs
Base cabinets: IKEA
countertop: Porcellanosa
Hardware: kitchen aid
plumbing fixtures: kohler
furniture: Isamu Noguchi, Suri Yanagi, Charles and Ray Eames, Trace Birds
Artwork: Berger & Fuhr, Greg Dale, Michael M. Moore

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