Shadowboxx by Olson Kundig Architects
Shadowboxx responds to a desire to facilitate an intimate understanding of its setting and explores the tradition of gathering around a fire. The site for this island retreat is a remote, windy point of land in the San Juan Islands in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Tucked between a thicket of trees and a rising bank, the house angles toward the bluff with its fifty-foot drop to the sea and view of the Olympic Mountains beyond.
Composed of several elements—living space, bathhouse, and private guest room—Shadowboxx sits in a natural clearing created by the strong winds that force back the trees from the rocky bank. The building purposely confuses the traditional boundaries between a built structure and its surroundings. Its masses are modeled by winds off the water, exterior cladding is allowed to weather and rust, and shifting doors, shutters, walls, and roofs constantly modulate the threshold between inside and outside. In Kundig’s eyes, the house is more about the softness of shadows than about the hardness of objects.
Inside the home, layers are revealed slowly. A gallery runs the length of the house, with rooms spilling off it. Two steel-clad doors slide open to reveal the main living space, called the cloud room for its ever-changing atmospherics. A glass-walled bunkroom, it contains six custom-designed rolling platforms that serve both as sofas and beds, enabling the room itself to morph in function. A steel chimney pipe opens to both the cloud room and the gallery and kitchen area, and doubles as a structural support. Exterior awning shutters face the water; they can be closed for protection from the elements or for security when the owner is away.
A guest room sits at one end of the house, and the bathhouse at the other. At the push of a button, the sixteen-by-twenty-foot bathhouse roof can open like a cigar box lid; it is engineered with a 5,500-pound steel counterweight, two steel pivot hinges, and two pairs of counter-rotating lifting arms.
Tactile materials are used throughout, including rammed earth floors, reclaimed oak floor planks, unpainted gypsum board and steel walls, corrugated steel siding and roofing, and reclaimed scaffolding planks for the ceiling.