Architect Keith Moskow grew up doing grunt construction work. His dad was a builder and after his first year of college, he helped build their family's summer home. "I was doing lowly work, but it was really good experience to think about architecture and building and how it goes together," Moskow says. A partner at Moskow Linn Architects for more than 20 years, he and cofounder Robert Linn decided it was time to help a new generation of designers. Earlier this year, they established Studio North, a design-build branch of their practice, and with five eager students, created and constructed the Chicken Chapel.
The idea to launch a design-build studio grew out of Moskow and Linn's experience building their own personal project, the Swamp Hut, in 2008. "You're always looking for that job that you can challenge yourself with," Moskow says. "We were our own clients so were able to do things outside the norm. It gave us the opportunity to experiment." For the students, it gave them the chance actually build one of their own designs. "It's something to add to their portfolio, and it was a chance to think about a design, draw it, and build it, which is a very good learning experience," Moskow says.
Five students participated in the inaugural program: Thomas Adamietz from North Dakota State University, Danielle D. Baez from Dartmouth College, Eric Barth from Bates College, Evan Deutsch from Middlebury College, and Erwin Sukamto from Rhode Island School of Design. Before the session began, Moskow and Linn decided the first project would be a chicken coop. "We were looking for a structure that could be something we could experiment with but something that also had a real program," Moskow says. One day during the week before the six-day program began, the students met with Moskow and Linn in their Boston office to brainstorm ideas. "There were lots of far-fetched ideas because none of the students had built anything and only two were in architecture school so it was a matter of reigning in some of the more complex ideas," Moskow says.
In July, the students, Moskow, and Linn gathered in Norwich, Vermont, where the studio was held and where Moskow lives with his family on 117 acres of farmland. The decided-upon structure was designed to mimic the surroundings. "We wanted it to feel like something special but for it also to be a very good neighbor to the barn," Linn says. The coop shares the same roof slope as the barn and aligns with one of its sides.
The design called for walls made of sugar maple poles, which the students and the architects harvested on site. "The structure could in a sense be made anywhere but this makes it a little representative of the place because it's materials are sourced 400 yards from where it's built," Moskow says.
Pictured here are two of the students at work on the Chicken Chapel. "They were great," Moskow says. "It'd be sunny in the morning then there'd be a rainstorm in the afternoon, but no one complained. It took really, really long days to finish it but they were gung-ho to get it done and were very proud of it at the end."
Inside the coop is an egg-shape roosting box. Chickens won't lay eggs if their nesting boxes are on the ground so one student had the idea of a hovering egg, Linn says. "When you're on the outside looking in," he adds, "you see a profile of the big egg and it's almost like of a sign of what's going on inside." Looking out, the fiberglass material that creates the walls distorts the look of the sugar maple poles on the exterior. "You get these beautiful textures and shadows that come through," Linn says.
From the outside, the look of the maple poles against the lit interior changes dramatically when day turns to night, as these images illustrate.
The entire structure takes on the look of a Japanese lantern in the evening. The team added lights so you could go in and be able to see where you are at night and also so that come late fall and winter, Moskow can turn them on after the sun sets to maintain the chicken's waking, eating, and egg-laying hours even as the days shorten.
The final structure measures eight feet wide, 12 feet long and eight feet high to the tops of the side walls. One end of the coop is scaled to chickens and the other, the one shown in the foreground, is scaled for humans to allow easy access for gathering eggs and cleaning the coop.
Moskow and Linn will bring another group of students to Norwich next year for the second Studio North session. Applications are now available at Moskow Linn Architects's blog.