This home soars.
At 124 feet, Falcon Nest is the country’s tallest single-family house. It was designed by Phoenix architect Sukumar Pal, AIA, and built beside the 6,514-foot Thumb Butte in Prescott, Arizona.
Completed in 1994, the 4,362-square-foot mid-rise home, also known as the Palsolaral House, exemplified passive solar design almost a quarter-century ago. The lessons of this mountainside home resonate today, as 21st Century technology vigorously promotes passive solar as well as other alternative power sources. The award-winning Prescott home was featured on HGTV’s Extreme Homes in 1994 and has often appeared on local television and in Arizona and national publications.
The 10-story home rests on 1.08 undulating acres of unseamed granite about seven miles north of downtown’s famous Whiskey Row. When Pal began the process of design approval, he vigorously negotiated with the city for zoning Falcon Nest as three stories in a community where neighboring homes top out at 35 feet.
“We called it ‘Falcon Nest’ because falcons generally nest just below the eagles, which need the top branches to spread their large wings,” Pal explained. “For us, the top of Thumb Butte is the eagle’s nest, and we are just below that on the next tier of branches. We are the falcons.” In fact, the summit of Thumb Butte is often unofficially closed to help protect falcons during winter mating season.
Because of the height of the tower, the home uses solar energy and air currents through the chimney effect of convection. This creates warmth on cold Prescott winter nights and cools the home in summer when daytime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Falcon Nest is the only building on Earth with its own ventilating, air-conditioning and heating system, which is unique in all respects,” said Pal, who designed the multi-use home as a getaway, work studio and art gallery. Pal explains that Falcon Nest does not have a manmade cooling and heating system and traditional ductwork. “The house is designed like a standard system, but the tower itself is the supply duct, and the stairwell is the return. The building works as a ductwork system, with louvers at each level delivering currents of air.” Pal plans to install an energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning system to increase year-round comfort as well as fan circulators at each level to disperse the cooled air.
Beginning at the ground level, the home has 135 stairs, including four sets of circular staircases to the two levels and the tower pinnacle. A hydraulic elevator provides a less strenuous ascent from the garage level to the sixth floor.
That central level is the 2,000-square-foot solarium, the everyday living area, designed around two matching bedrooms: one looking up through a glass roof to the granite outcrops of Thumb Butte and the other out to northern Arizona, including the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. On a cloudless day, the views from Falcon Nest exceed 120 miles, and as you ascend to the top, they are even more impressive.
Right Place, Right Time
Pal visited 200 lots in Arizona before choosing this one. Of course, the view toward Thumb Butte and out 100-plus miles across northern Arizona was compelling, allowing him to create his own hill adjacent to the natural one.
So, too, was the granite foundation. The home rests on a small 24×24-foot concrete base, unanchored to it, standing by gravity only. “In the event of an earthquake – although Prescott is in a very seismically secure area – the more tied to the ground a building is, the more damage,” Pal said. “This building will stay as it is and absorb the shock.”
In addition, although it encompasses more than 5,000 square feet, the home is taxed on just the small footprint. And, by keeping this small, he was able separate this home from his neighbors’, while ensuring he could obtain the maximum height for the best chimney effect. “Height is the magic; the higher you go, the better it is for convection to work,” Pal said.
Falcon Nest immediately excited people’s imaginations and continues to do so. “Anybody can really apply the same principles,” he explained. “If the cities relax some code restrictions, then people can build more passive solar, energy-efficient homes and use ambient air, when available, for economy and improved lifestyle.”
Watch an interview with the architect and site the video on vimeo: vimeo.com/208771980
For more information, contact Frank Aazami, Private Client Group, Russ Lyons|Sotheby’s, at 480-266-0240, and see frankaazami.com or privateclientgroupagents.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Brown is an Arizona-based writer at azwriter.com.
Author photo by Rick Carter. Prescott home photos by Tour Factory.