Building on the Bivouac
If you’re planning to build a house on a rural site it’s a good idea to try to camp there first, to get a sense of the site’s key features and best orientations. In my case — having just returned from an overnight stay in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara in a sleeping bag that must have been rated for indoor use only — camping only made me appreciate beds and bedrooms all the more. But while lying awake in the cold — the moon is beautiful but really, really slow — I started to think about ways to include aspects of camping without actually leaving home. Seattle architect Tom Kundig, of the firm Olson Kundig, is especially adept at what I would call “civilized rustication,” that is, heightening an outdoor experience indoors. I have mentioned some of his projects before —
he gives new meaning to the nurture in nature. For example, consider this plywood bedroom with the round Rais wood stove: I’d call it architectural camping (no doubt the sleeping bag is rated for actual warmth). The wood grain, expanse of glass, platform bed, and stove are enough to create a feeling of being in a landscape without actually strolling into the wild (photo courtesy stylecarrot.com). Or here’s a bedroom in another Kundig cabin with an outdoor
vibe in the decking and open/screened walls (photo by Tim Bies courtesy justthedesign.tumblr.com). Berkeley architects Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman, of Fernau & Hartman, have often experimented with blurring the
boundaries between inside and outside. One of my favorite examples is their design for a house in Colorado, as shown here. When it’s time to say goodnight,
the bed, which is on rails, rolls onto the sheltered porch — next stop, dreamland (photos courtesy the architects). If that seems a bit extreme, maybe well-proportioned, operable window walls will do the trick, as shown here in
Plan 491-10, a modern cabin by Braxton Werner and Paul Field. That would work for me! Then there is the question of bathing outdoors — always fun to think about in warmer weather. You can simply plumb the tub somewhat away
again, Tom Kundig demonstrates, in his bathing pavilion with a crank that raises
the roof. It’s part drawbridge, part cabin — a wonderfully kinetic and, I would guess, invigorating bathing machine (photos by Tim Bies, courtesy Olson Kundig and on Architizer — where you can see the video of the roof opening up!).
The idea of the camp-as-house has long been a strong and suggestible architectural idea — remember those famous Adirondack lodges. A particularly quirky early 20th century example is the house known as the Temple of the
Wings in Berkeley, designed by Bernard Maybeck and A. Randolph Monroe and built in 1911 for Charles and Florence Boynton as a riff on Greco-Roman architecture (photo courtesy Berekeleyplaques.org). Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman know it well. It consists of two circular open-air pavilions defined by 34 Corinthian columns. Canvas shades provided weather protection and one presumes, a measure of privacy. Mrs. Boynton, who was a childhood friend of Isadora Duncan, taught generations of dance classes here: the outdoor life as leaps and pirouettes of the imagination. I guess a colonnade is all you really need to make the camp your home — and maybe now I can get to sleep.
For more on outdoor-oriented cabins: click here