INTERVIEW: BIG SKY JOURNAL – Mountain Living and Architectural Design
Q & A – Headwaters Camp
Q.) What were you trying to achieve architecturally when designing Headwaters Camp?
A.) First and foremost Owner satisfaction; understanding hopes and aspirations is very important and certainly a prerequisite to the creative response. No less significant is the location itself; it is imperative for me to feel the site on a very personal and emotional level before tasking on a solution; sights, smell, sound, texture, sun, wind, wildlife, vegetation, etc. all are allowed to be absorbed by the inner person. I develop a very personal relationship with place and location before allowing myself to move forward with a solution.
Architects Journal Entry – November 2008: “…Words cannot possibly begin to convey a feeling or emotion well enough to be shared or understood by others. How does one capture the sense of place, song, passage or remembrance that moves the heart or soul? Such things are often deeply personal and occur in a moment of silence; the kind of silence I had experienced while in the palm of…”(see Architects Journal Entry for the entire journal entry.)
Specifically, the strategy behind the Master Plan was to create an encampment. The kind we all remember as children when for two weeks during the summer we would bunk with new found friends, explore our surroundings and enjoy a unique mix of liberty and freedom. Distilled to the basics, Headwaters Camp is about a series of experiences, preserving sightlines, locating building envelopes and thinking about their relationship to each other. Within this context the crown jewel; a substantial series of ponds, streams, falls and wetlands help to unify the entire concept. Often times in rural Montana the outbuildings are seen or experienced before the dwelling; Headwaters Camp is no different. From the main road a romantic notion of place is gathered by an over-the-shoulder preview of horse pasture and a high mountain barn; finished with beautifully weathered, reclaimed materials of wood, timber and corrugated roofing.
A single point of parcel entry allows for opportunities to pause and stand silently in wonderment and curiosity as to what lies beyond. Transitional pieces such as a bridge help to create a sense of departure and arrival. Avoiding existing meadows, water ways and placement of access lanes to the inside of a forested edge helped to preserve the feeling of minimal intrusion upon the land. Mr. Thomson (Todd) was very specific about setting up a visual relationship from the future primary residence to the distant summit of Lone Mountain. In particular from the great room, the need to experience the pond in the foreground, oblique view of a cabin shimmering over the waters edge beyond, each embraced by Lone Mountain seen in all its glory along a distant horizon.
Q.) What were the owner’s requests and/or needs of the home?
A.) Todd and Melissa’s request was for an efficient Guest Cabin that contained the needed programming for serving the everyday necessities of life. The Cabins character was to be what is termed Parkitecture; or the more popular and contemporary definition known to many as Western/Rustic. Parkitecture by our definition is the exaggerated use of boulders and stone, large expressive tree trunks for columns, log beams, trussing and a mixed use of timbers. These elements of the structure appear to be emerging or growing from the earth itself. Mr. Thomson was very clear about capturing distant views deep within the space and that there be an iconic stairway leading to the upper level loft. At the end of the day, the resulting structure was the culmination of inspiration, place, program and a collaborative contribution made by Owner, Architect and Contractor alike.
Q.) How would you describe the home’s feel?
A.) Special, organic, original, well rooted and appropriate to place. The Cabin and the Barn for that matter, each convey strength, permanence and a sense of confidence amongst an overwhelming panorama of majestic mountains and weather extremes. If you reduce to words the definition of successful architecture you will discover three essential characteristics, they are: Expressive structure (experiencing working members, detailed connections, inside and out), site specificity (plugged into the site in a very specific manner), and a feeling of transparency (open air connections, large window openings, etc.). In comparing the Cabin to this measuring stick we hit a home run.
Q.) At only 1,800 square feet, what special challenges were encountered designing for that space?
A.) Actually the Cabin is defined by a 1377 sf foot print which excludes the loft and detached storage, mechanical space. This is a great question; to the average person the prevailing myth is….the smaller the project the easier it is to design, when in fact just the opposite is true. A small gem of a structure that succeeds at all the things that I’ve touched upon is very difficult to achieve. Thinking about how the structure would utilize a natural drop in elevation or a descending topography to waters edge was fun and a rare project opportunity. Our Structural (Bridger Engineers) and Civil (Allied Engineering) both from Bozeman, were a great asset during their respective phase of service.
Q.) How is designing a “green,” LEED-certified home different than a typical assignment for you?
A.) The big differences are in the control of the owner and contractor. Todd’s commitment to the process and the many requirements necessary to achieve LEED Platinum was extraordinary; certification would not have been possible without Mr. Thomson. The contractors sought good advice and direction from LEED consultants Kath Williams and Associates. Again, certification would not have been possible without the contractors commitment to the process and execution of the many details and variables involved.
Aside from the previous mention, we as architects are always thinking about building orientation, adaptation to site, weather extremes, passive solar, code compliance and energy efficiency standards. Really what makes this project so special was the commitment on behalf of all the parties to push Headwaters Camp to the next level that currently has no equal.
Q.) Is this the first home you have designed to achieve LEED certification?
A.) Yes; however design or a particular vernacular is less critical to the achievement of a LEED Certification than say the efficiency of the building envelope and other systems supporting the use of the dwelling. Incidentally, I wish to acknowledge our consultant to the Geothermal Heating System/ Pond Loop, Major Geothermal located in Wheat Ridge, CO.
Q.) What trends have you noticed in people’s decisions to adopt a more “green” building sense?
A.) Green is red hot! Everywhere, in all walks of life there is a renewed excitement and determination to become good stewards of our remaining resources and to develop technologies for sustainable, renewable energy. We are poised as a nation to do great things; not only do we have the opportunity to deliver ourselves from a dwindling petroleum dependant system, but to also create new career paths and other related jobs currently needed to bolster our economy. We can provide opportunities for our country in a way not seen since the automobile was first massed produced in Detroit and believe it or not, it starts in our own back yard! It seems that at a time of our greatest desperation, great things are achieved. I have faith in our country, our technologies, our educational system and in our future. “Green” is beyond a trend, it’s here to stay, and if you are a business leader just beginning to think about green……you are already behind.
Q.) What is the outlook for new housing; is now a good time to build?
A.) Many experts have looked at every possible housing indicator you can imagine and the statistic that seems to be most relevant to business leaders is private, fixed, residential investment as a percent to the GDP. Reportedly the 60 year average is 4.8%. According to Home Depot CFO, Carol Tome, at the height of the homebuilding market, that number stood at 6.3%; at the end of the first quarter of 2009 the number equaled 2.7%; obviously indicating a huge contraction. Also according to Tome, when you compare 2.7% and 60 years of data it is logical to assume the worst is behind us. In conclusion she reminds us that the contraction could continue, however a serious decline as we have experienced should be over. (Fortune Magazine – August 2009; Renovating Home Depot; pg 46)
Bottom line, we are sharing with our clients who are poised to move in a soft market, to take advantage of pricing not seen in a decade. A home is an investment; investments are idealized when purchased low and sold high. It would appear that we have reached the bottom end of a declining economy, so now is the time to build.
Check out Dan Joseph Architects at: http://djawest.com/