Building the Maxon House: Week 10

written by:
May 4, 2011

In our latest Backstory series, Seattleite Lou Maxon recounts the thrills and trials of ditching the suburbs, buying property, and designing and building a modern house with Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects. Week Ten: Maxon House Concept Design

 

In mid-July of 2008, my wife and I made our way up to the sixth floor offices of Olson Kundig Architects. It was one of the most exciting days for us since purchasing the property. We had completed and submitted our house program and now we'd be on hand for the unveiling of Tom Kundig's vision for our future dwelling. By this point Tom had visited our site and our past residence and scouted out the perfect spot on our 21-acre property to locate the house. We were both looking to see how he'd solve the puzzle of outfitting a modern dwelling for a family of five (my wife and I and three growing boys) in addition to creating an office or studio space for my business and a place for storage and parking.

One of the things I remember clearly from researching the firm and Tom's work was a quote from his book, thanking his clients "for their emotional and financial risk-taking in a poetic science—architecture is not a return or money-back-if-not-completely-satisfied deal."

This sentiment resonated with us. We were ready to roll the dice. We settled into the conference room. The space was decked out with site photos and shots of the kids running and playing on the property. Poster-sized maps locating our site and plans littered the cork walls of the light filled space. Tom Kundig and Edward LaLonde walked in and the show started.

  • 
  One of the fun elements of the first meeting was starting to see ourselves as the client, as the family in the space. This was done in two ways during the presentation of design concepts. The firm started to build a visual storyboard in the presentation room and in the drawings themselves, portraying vector-based figures of the boys and my wife and I moving throughout the space and on the site.
    One of the fun elements of the first meeting was starting to see ourselves as the client, as the family in the space. This was done in two ways during the presentation of design concepts. The firm started to build a visual storyboard in the presentation room and in the drawings themselves, portraying vector-based figures of the boys and my wife and I moving throughout the space and on the site.
  • 
  We were presented with a variety of different schematic configurations based on a long rectangular volume that would either parallel the slope, shotgun over the view, or be angled in a few different ways. There was a lot to consider. Living area options included bedrooms and private spaces at one end of the residence with more public areas on the other; or private areas split (a "barbell approach") with kids on one end, living spaces in the middle, and our master bedroom on the opposite end. As for how to enter the house, Tom suggested a long steel entry ramp that would literally raise you up into the trees. A pivot or swinging 6' door into the entry is pictured here. Tom made notations as we discussed the different design approaches.
    We were presented with a variety of different schematic configurations based on a long rectangular volume that would either parallel the slope, shotgun over the view, or be angled in a few different ways. There was a lot to consider. Living area options included bedrooms and private spaces at one end of the residence with more public areas on the other; or private areas split (a "barbell approach") with kids on one end, living spaces in the middle, and our master bedroom on the opposite end. As for how to enter the house, Tom suggested a long steel entry ramp that would literally raise you up into the trees. A pivot or swinging 6' door into the entry is pictured here. Tom made notations as we discussed the different design approaches.
  • 
  The plans were a mix of analog and digital. The framework for the design was output from architectural software on oversized inkjet printers, and specific detailing was done in pencil. This image depicts the detailing of the large expanse of windows off the kitchen. Tom prefers working with sketches and drawings, while Edward performed more of the CAD-based work.
    The plans were a mix of analog and digital. The framework for the design was output from architectural software on oversized inkjet printers, and specific detailing was done in pencil. This image depicts the detailing of the large expanse of windows off the kitchen. Tom prefers working with sketches and drawings, while Edward performed more of the CAD-based work.
  • 
  Among the many critical resources at our disposal during the design process were the iPhone and iPad. While we were presented with full-size plans, we also received accompanying Acrobat pdf files for our digital records. This became very handy later on for marking up concepts and providing feedback realtime via email with notations. Being a creative myself, this workflow and back-and-forth collaboration made for a seamless process. While we didn't have the iPad at our initial meeting, it later became an invaluable resource for storing plans, permits and notes, along with photos of Tom's projects and shots from the site.
    Among the many critical resources at our disposal during the design process were the iPhone and iPad. While we were presented with full-size plans, we also received accompanying Acrobat pdf files for our digital records. This became very handy later on for marking up concepts and providing feedback realtime via email with notations. Being a creative myself, this workflow and back-and-forth collaboration made for a seamless process. While we didn't have the iPad at our initial meeting, it later became an invaluable resource for storing plans, permits and notes, along with photos of Tom's projects and shots from the site.
  • 
  The design meetings with Tom and Edward were always very hands-on. They'd present the concepts and ideas behind the design and then we'd discuss and make suggestions and comments. After the meeting, the comments were captured in documents outlining what was presented, the options for that particular design feature, and action items for resolving any open issues. Here we do some architectural tetris, experimenting with an alternate option for the carport/garage.
    The design meetings with Tom and Edward were always very hands-on. They'd present the concepts and ideas behind the design and then we'd discuss and make suggestions and comments. After the meeting, the comments were captured in documents outlining what was presented, the options for that particular design feature, and action items for resolving any open issues. Here we do some architectural tetris, experimenting with an alternate option for the carport/garage.
  • 
  Initial concepts came with varying degrees of indoor/outdoor space options, including a terrace off the side or the view side of the house. Because we'd inherently be dealing with setbacks and buffers from the steep slope these decisions required a lot of thought and care. The initial design called for approximately two-thirds of the residence to be firmly planted on a concrete foundation while a third cantilevered over the slope, extending out into the trees and sky.
    Initial concepts came with varying degrees of indoor/outdoor space options, including a terrace off the side or the view side of the house. Because we'd inherently be dealing with setbacks and buffers from the steep slope these decisions required a lot of thought and care. The initial design called for approximately two-thirds of the residence to be firmly planted on a concrete foundation while a third cantilevered over the slope, extending out into the trees and sky.
  • 
  Early on we discussed proportion and actual square footage. We had provided measurements from our previous residence in the suburbs, along with suggested square footage allotments for our new home. Tom and Edward took those measurements into consideration and then detailed their suggestions in a conceptual plan. As a client, it's easy to focus on 
specific rooms and lose sight of the bigger picture and how those spaces interact with each other (another reason to hire an architect!). So seeing our program come to life in the form of the conceptual renderings really helped us to understand what we actually needed moving forward. Many rooms would serve dual purposes and from our initial review of the concepts we decided that we'd really like to explore adding a den for the boys that could also transform into a guest quarters if need be. I initially had dreams of a large expansive open bedroom for the boys but, realizing that when they got older they'd want their privacy, we decided that they would in fact each require their own space. A wise choice.
    Early on we discussed proportion and actual square footage. We had provided measurements from our previous residence in the suburbs, along with suggested square footage allotments for our new home. Tom and Edward took those measurements into consideration and then detailed their suggestions in a conceptual plan. As a client, it's easy to focus on  specific rooms and lose sight of the bigger picture and how those spaces interact with each other (another reason to hire an architect!). So seeing our program come to life in the form of the conceptual renderings really helped us to understand what we actually needed moving forward. Many rooms would serve dual purposes and from our initial review of the concepts we decided that we'd really like to explore adding a den for the boys that could also transform into a guest quarters if need be. I initially had dreams of a large expansive open bedroom for the boys but, realizing that when they got older they'd want their privacy, we decided that they would in fact each require their own space. A wise choice.
  • 
  Another consideration was the placement of the office or studio. The concept was that it would be a kinetic architectural object that could nest with or depart from the main residence. In the house program, I requested the solitude and privacy to work alone but also the ability to occasionally welcome visitors, family and guests into the space. While my space needs were not grandiose, I did need a modern man cave to work in. The solution initially was for a small 100-square-foot box that would slide on rails out into the woods. It was critical to me that this was powered by humans rather than electricity, and that both my wife and I could operate it as well as our kids.
We'd later alter the plans for the rolling studio but the initial presentation of the idea was spot on. Figuring out the logistics of getting power to the structure and the physics of moving a box out on tracks would come later. These kinetic inventions would involve the collaboration with one of Tom's favorite engineers, Phil Turner of Turner Exhibits. Tom had perfected the art of functional kinetic "gizmos" in other projects and by keeping the building simple had hoped that we'd be willing to explore one for our project.
    Another consideration was the placement of the office or studio. The concept was that it would be a kinetic architectural object that could nest with or depart from the main residence. In the house program, I requested the solitude and privacy to work alone but also the ability to occasionally welcome visitors, family and guests into the space. While my space needs were not grandiose, I did need a modern man cave to work in. The solution initially was for a small 100-square-foot box that would slide on rails out into the woods. It was critical to me that this was powered by humans rather than electricity, and that both my wife and I could operate it as well as our kids. We'd later alter the plans for the rolling studio but the initial presentation of the idea was spot on. Figuring out the logistics of getting power to the structure and the physics of moving a box out on tracks would come later. These kinetic inventions would involve the collaboration with one of Tom's favorite engineers, Phil Turner of Turner Exhibits. Tom had perfected the art of functional kinetic "gizmos" in other projects and by keeping the building simple had hoped that we'd be willing to explore one for our project.
  • 
  The design concepts took advantage of views out over the valley and surrounding mountain ranges (Mt. Rainer and the Olympics) along with the expansive farmland and winding Tolt River below. The initial design called for terraces in a few different configurations but we ultimately dumped them in favor for building as close to the edge as allowed and opting for operable windows along the view side. We'd have plenty of outdoor space with our 21-acre backyard. The residence as designed essentially becomes a frame through which we view the landscape. We were behind that philosophy 100%. Plus we didn't want to sit in our living room staring out at railings.
    The design concepts took advantage of views out over the valley and surrounding mountain ranges (Mt. Rainer and the Olympics) along with the expansive farmland and winding Tolt River below. The initial design called for terraces in a few different configurations but we ultimately dumped them in favor for building as close to the edge as allowed and opting for operable windows along the view side. We'd have plenty of outdoor space with our 21-acre backyard. The residence as designed essentially becomes a frame through which we view the landscape. We were behind that philosophy 100%. Plus we didn't want to sit in our living room staring out at railings.
  • 
  The meeting concluded with us taking a set of plans home to review. We were sent the digital pdf files of the printed plans so that we could make notations and expedite the revisions moving forward. My wife and I sat down to make comments and notations in Acrobat, which we sent off to both Tom and Edward. This was the foundation for our communication moving forward. 
It's probably very dangerous from an architects' point of view to have a client who knows Photoshop but I tried as much as possible to resist actually making physical design moves and instead opted for notes that they could implement on their end. The ability to exchange plans and notes electronically not only improved the design over time but also proved efficient and provided some cost savings. There is something artful about the mixed media of printed inkjet plans with hand-drawn notes and comments. I still have the original conceptual elevation drawing of our home on my office wall to remind me where we started and how closely we stuck to the original concept throughout the entire process, a testament to the collaboration and open communication between architect and client.
    The meeting concluded with us taking a set of plans home to review. We were sent the digital pdf files of the printed plans so that we could make notations and expedite the revisions moving forward. My wife and I sat down to make comments and notations in Acrobat, which we sent off to both Tom and Edward. This was the foundation for our communication moving forward. It's probably very dangerous from an architects' point of view to have a client who knows Photoshop but I tried as much as possible to resist actually making physical design moves and instead opted for notes that they could implement on their end. The ability to exchange plans and notes electronically not only improved the design over time but also proved efficient and provided some cost savings. There is something artful about the mixed media of printed inkjet plans with hand-drawn notes and comments. I still have the original conceptual elevation drawing of our home on my office wall to remind me where we started and how closely we stuck to the original concept throughout the entire process, a testament to the collaboration and open communication between architect and client.
  • 
  One of the valuable resources an architect provides is the user experience and quality control of the design. Meaning, after the architect draws up the plans other members of the firm review the plans to ensure that functionally, there were no elements in the design that conflicted, like doors opening onto other doors, bathrooms viewable from the kitchen, etc.
The role of the architect is expansive and exceeds just the obvious appeal of designing something cool and modern.
    One of the valuable resources an architect provides is the user experience and quality control of the design. Meaning, after the architect draws up the plans other members of the firm review the plans to ensure that functionally, there were no elements in the design that conflicted, like doors opening onto other doors, bathrooms viewable from the kitchen, etc. The role of the architect is expansive and exceeds just the obvious appeal of designing something cool and modern.
  • 
  Here are elevation plans detailing the cantilever of the proposed residence. Following the conceptual meeting and subsequent revisions I submitted initial site plans and drawings to the county for initial review in terms of slope setbacks and buffers to insure that we'd be able to get as close to the slope edge as possible. Revisions would certainly be required to the degree of cantilever and the proximity of the residence to the edge. Geotechnical studies including drilling and soil samples would be required along with a full report submitted to the county.
    Here are elevation plans detailing the cantilever of the proposed residence. Following the conceptual meeting and subsequent revisions I submitted initial site plans and drawings to the county for initial review in terms of slope setbacks and buffers to insure that we'd be able to get as close to the slope edge as possible. Revisions would certainly be required to the degree of cantilever and the proximity of the residence to the edge. Geotechnical studies including drilling and soil samples would be required along with a full report submitted to the county.
  • 
  At that initial meeting, my wife and I both took turns speaking freely about our thoughts on the plans. It took some time to digest but overall, based on the homework we did with the program, the vision and concept was spot on for what we were imagining. In essence, the architects' goal was to make architecture out of a story, and they succeeded. We were thrilled with the concepts and left buzzing with excitement about the design. Olson Kundig Architects married the features of the site with the physical structure of the house perfectly, and what was once a dream was now taking shape into reality.
    At that initial meeting, my wife and I both took turns speaking freely about our thoughts on the plans. It took some time to digest but overall, based on the homework we did with the program, the vision and concept was spot on for what we were imagining. In essence, the architects' goal was to make architecture out of a story, and they succeeded. We were thrilled with the concepts and left buzzing with excitement about the design. Olson Kundig Architects married the features of the site with the physical structure of the house perfectly, and what was once a dream was now taking shape into reality.
  • 
  After our initial concept meeting we exchanged notes and asked for specific dimensions on rooms so we could make some decisions moving forward. Edward would e-mail over notations drawn over plans so we could review and then make final comments and decisions. This avoided trips into Seattle to review just a handful of changes and maximized our time with Tom and Edward on issues that really required face-to-face discussion. Again, technology to the rescue.
    After our initial concept meeting we exchanged notes and asked for specific dimensions on rooms so we could make some decisions moving forward. Edward would e-mail over notations drawn over plans so we could review and then make final comments and decisions. This avoided trips into Seattle to review just a handful of changes and maximized our time with Tom and Edward on issues that really required face-to-face discussion. Again, technology to the rescue.

@current / @total

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...