One of the winners of this year’s American Institute of Architecture’s Small Project Practitioners Knowledge Community 8th annual Small Project Awards is Small House in an Olive Grove designed by Cooper Joseph Studio. The home is located in the Dry Creek Valley near Sonoma, California and functions almost completely off-the-grid.

The house is a 3-storey, 850 square feet home that is located at the top of an olive orchard, hence the name, and is north-facing to minimize heat gain and offer good natural cooling. The house is anchored to the steep hillside with a number of retaining walls and cascading exterior decks, each of which is connected to an interior space. The bedroom is located on the top floor; the mezzanine level holds the kitchen and dining area, while the living area is in the lower level of the house.


The power needed to run the household is provided via a 930 square-foot solar panel field, which was placed on a nearby hillside. This solar panel system is capable of producing 21,578 kWh of electricity per year. The solar field is also elevated 10 feet off the ground and acts as a sun shelter for the agricultural shed beneath it. The Xeriscape plantings around the house are able to conserve water, especially during drought months, and they will require no irrigation once they have stabilized. The storm runoff from the hills is redirected and filtered using a series of culverts, underground piping and grading shifts, which provides a steady source of water.

Most of the façade of the home was left in the original concrete look, though some redwood siding and shading was also added to minimize solar heat gain and provide shade. Large windows were installed throughout the home to maximize natural daylighting,

The house was commissioned by two scientists who were interested in growing olives to produce olive oil, keeping bees for honey, and gardening. They wanted a home that would let them live off the land as much as possible, which is exactly what this house provides.