Named for its prevalence in National Parks and seen in iconic buildings like Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, "parkitecture" aims to blend buildings with their grand surroundings. Characterized by a rustic flavor, parkitecture features great rooms with rough-hewn, exposed beams and soaring ceilings, large windows, simple living spaces, and natural building materials. The Wilderness Cabin in California has all of this while making a minimal impact on its environment.
Architect Kathy Scott of Walker Warner Architects in San Francisco says that working in this idyllic landscape had its challenges. With every winter bringing snowdrifts up to 14 feet high, construction was limited to the five-month period from May to October. The team built the timber frame quickly during the first summer so they could close it off when the first snow fell, and then spent the next two summers completing the interior and extensive stonework.
Even complete and glazed, the windows and doors still needed protection during the off-season. Glazing the windows with putty attracted animals trying to scratch their way into the cabin during the long winter, so to protect against snow and animals, the team came up with a system for covering the windows with wooden boards.
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Creating "a seamless transition between the cabin and the surrounding site," Scott and the team focused on a palette of wood, stone, and steel. They used western red cedar, which is naturally rot-resistant; steel that was hot-dipped, galvanized, and patinaed to make it feel aged; and locally sourced granite which had been quarried and left in a field for 100 years. "It had developed amazing lichen growth and patina," says Scott.
"We worked with amazing craftsmen to customize every aspect of the cabin," says Scott. She notes the talented work of Edwin Hamilton, a stone mason and sculptor, who provided everything from exterior stone cladding to the fireplace surround, which, says Scott, "was made from single blocks of granite that had to be craned in."
She also points out the custom steel railings, hardware, and light fixtures crafted by Jefferson Mack, an artisan metalsmith: "The pendant in the living room was made up of antlers forged of steel."
To prevent overbuilding and encroaching on the landscape, Scott kept the living space fairly modest, with just two bedrooms and a bunk room.
Similarly, the home’s environmental footprint is small. "It’s entirely off the grid," says Scott, "powered by solar panels and propane. We used propane refrigerators, like the ones you see in RVs, and propane lights to limit electricity use. We also relied on the fireplace and a wood stove for heating. Cooling is provided by a quick dip in the mountain-fed lake!"
The home now looks as if it’s always been there—even the pitch and color of the tinplate roof matches the soaring, rocky peaks behind it.
This impression was assisted by the aggressive work of Robert Trachtenberg of Garden Architecture. "Even before building began, the landscape architect began working with our client to re-naturalize the site," says Scott. "They contoured the edge of the lake, adding boulders, a dock, and a shallow swimming area for small children, and built a berm to provide privacy from a popular hiking trail running through the property."
More by Walker Warner Architects:
Photography: Cesar Rubio, Cesar Rubio Photography
General Contractor: Mark Nolan General Contractor
Structural Engineer: Tom Tormey, Tom Tormey Engineering
Civil Engineer: James Bray, E&S Engineers and Surveyors, Inc.
Interior Design Company/Contact: Stacy Stone, Stone Interiors
Stone Mason: Edwin Hamilton, stone mason and sculptor, Hamilton Stoneworks
Timber Framers: The Cascade Joinery
Metal Work: Jefferson Mack, artisan metalsmith, Jefferson Mack Metal
Furniture Design/Build: Charles Freeborn, Charles Freeborn Fine Furniture
Landscape Design: Robert Trachtenberg of Garden Architecture
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