All interns at Olson Kundig Architects are required to give a 25–30 minute presentation on any topic to the entire firm. It can be used to to discuss their own thesis, show their background to the firm, share non-architecture work, or talk about some other topic. Mainly, it’s a way to introduce themselves to the firm.
I gave my presentation a week ago, on September 18, 2014, titled “Big Moose Lake.” There were three sections: Origin Story, My Projects, New Toolshed.
My family has a cabin in upstate New York. My great-grandfather built the original cabin in the early 1930s. For three summers, my grandmother and great-grandparents lived in tents on the property while they cut down trees on the property, floated them to be milled elsewhere on the lake, and built the first room of our cabin. Within twenty years, they added an enclosed porch and a kitchen.
Great-grandpa Leo was not an architect or a builder, he was a pharmacist. Our Big Moose cabin wasn’t perfect or formally beautiful, but to me, it was perfect. I have gone almost every summer of my life–the only place I’ve returned to regularly. Its smells, sounds, light, etc, are embedded in my consciousness. They were teaching me architectural lessons without me knowing. I constructed imaginary mansions for myself in the woods in clearings and under trees.
One of the biggest lessons that has become a guiding principle in my own work is the idea that home-program is not absolutely an interior condition, and should extend to outside as well. Our old cabin didn’t have plumbing, and we only gained running water to an outdoor sink and outdoor shower during my early teen years. Up until two years ago, when we built a new cabin, we still used the original outhouse.
By practical needs, this meant that our entire bathroom existed outside. To use the toilet, you had to walk down the path to the outhouse. Brushing our teeth was done outside at the sink. Showering was within a fenced garden area, and our shower head was attached to a large birch tree.
Our cabin was also really small, and generally crammed full of family members. Warm and cozy at night and during rainstroms, its size drove us all to be outside during great weather. Our living room was on the dock… or at the hammock, or the fireplace, or wherever the Adirondack chairs are parked. Likewise, our dining room was in our kitchen, and at our picnic table on the dock or in the clearing, etc. Life was lived both inside and out. The space around our cabin was an integral part to our home life, and not just the space that our home happened to sit within.
This has translated into the guiding principle that Nature is important and should be purposefully fused into programming and architecture.
I presented two projects, representing both a subtle and overt influence from Big Moose.
My first project was Greenhouse Studios. Its design was centered around the idea that green space could be an important programmatic element of a film production studio. The complex was designed in a way that provided immediate access to Nature from every program, and used the integration of Nature as the organizing principle.
The second project was Fluttering Facade. This wall assembly was a direct interpretation of a memory I had of lying in bed after a rainstorm and watching leftover rain filtering through the trees.
This was my great opportunity. My parents have asked me to design a new toolshed for our cabin. Since I had a captive audience of architects who I greatly admire, I thought I should get some feedback.
They did not disappoint. It was insightful, uplifting, and helpful. They correctly pointed out that I was stuck in nostalgia for Big Moose and was playing it too safe. This toolshed is a chance to experiment.