Nickerson-Wakefield House

Catskill, New York
Location
  • Catskill, New York
  • An expansive vista of distant mountains and wooded valleys opens the dialog between the specific
    site and the larger landscape. The unfinished concrete foundation of a speculative ski house lay

    dormant, a mute ruin, when the land was purchased. The decision to incorporate it into the design

    rather than tear it down initiated a conversation between new construction and old as well as

    between house and landscape. Wanting to take advantage of passive solar heating and to maximize the views, an extruded linear form was placed perpendicular to the existing foundation walls and parallel with the mountain ridge and valley beyond. Carport, entry and all services are located in the spaces formed within the preexisting foundation. Two distinctive entries into the house are provided. One can enter directly under the new structure and rise through the house from darkness to light, from tall concrete retaining walls to wood and glass, from containment to release. Alternatively, a more ceremonial entry moves one from the apple trees and meadow at the upper level to a wooden boardwalk that pierces the structure and skewers the view beyond. Entering the low structure on the boardwalk, both volume and access to the landscape open up. Emerging at the southern glazed wall, passing between the outdoor fireplace and bench, the vista expands over the concrete walls of the foundation towards the outdoor shower and mountains beyond. The long extruded form of the wooden house with oversized glazing turns the weather into wallpaper. The rising shed roof of the house permits natural light to stream into the house, balanced by the lower, more intimate scale in the enclosed private rooms (e.g. bedrooms and bathrooms). The boardwalk serves as both a destination and an integral part of the circulation, where vertical movement through the house is via interior and exterior steel stairs hung from this long wood plane. The outdoor fireplace and bench positioned just outside the house are discreet elements that create a pause, while the outdoor shower beckons at the far end as the boardwalk, vectoring to the landscape beyond.

    Below, the foundation forms a new outdoor room. A room with no name, which adds an urban

    destination to the collection of spaces. With access from above as well as from the studio and

    lower level entry, this residual space is revitalized as a stone garden, a solar trap, a child’s play

    area with a bridge above, a windbreak, an observatory. It offers an intimate respite from the

    relentless views. Existing window openings in the foundation become framed portholes for views of

    the woods and sky. Anchored to the hillside, the structure, like a spatial valve, mediates between the small-scale agrarian landscape (meadows, paths, apple trees and woodland) and the larger scale of mountains humping through the horizon. As a sculptural ruin transformed into a home in a rural setting, the design addresses the desire for intimate spaces while responding to the wide panorama of the valley, melding a humble, approachable facade with the drama of the revitalized fortification.

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