No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.
— Frank Lloyd Wright
The meadowland within the native forest above Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is the site of six new cottages. The meadow, which is a fragment of a recent agricultural landscape, provides a complimentary experience to the surrounding forest from which to appreciate and understand both ecology and cultural history. It opens a clearing in the forest; a clearing that establishes the possibility of a sustainable relationship between human occupancy, site and sun.
Each cottage forms a small ridge. In series, cottages form swells and falls of landform. Each cottage looks over the low point of the swell in front of it toward the line of White Pine and deciduous forest at the meadow’s edge. Just as Fallingwater is an intensification of the rock outcroppings that characterize Bear Run, the meadow cottages are an intensification of the swelling ground-plane of the meadow, made from the very soil and grasses of the meadow itself. Cottage-form is an intensification of land-form.
The cluster of cottages forms a sheltering micro-climate of sunny prospect. Openings in each cottage, cut through the landforms by weathering steel portals, connect cottage interiors to the meadowland beyond, silently and passively gathering the sun’s energy in the shoulder and winter seasons, shading openings and providing ventilation during the summer’s heat.
The cottages are open in plan, generous with a sense of luminous space. Interiors are surfaced in light toned wood, grounded by concrete floors and sculpted by daylight. A large opening to the meadow focuses the living space, allowing easy access to an outdoor terrace. Bedrooms are more enclosed with double or two single beds as required; extra guests – children – can sleep on the long couch in the living space.
The construction budget for the cottages is very modest so that an extremely cost effective construction strategy is essential. The primary structure utilizes a standard corrugated steel culvert as the primary building structure and envelope to maximize volume and minimize material and cost. Window and door openings within this envelope are framed with light steel members to create an extremely robust overall enclosure. With the addition of a waterproof membrane to the exterior, and spray applied insulation to the interior, the cottages are fitted out with flexible hardwood veneer plywood interiors.
To further minimize cost, waste and environmental impact the cottages can be fully or largely constructed within a factory, shipped to the site and attached to a cast-in-place concrete foundation slab and then covered with earth. Key to this approach is the robust structural integrity of the primary steel envelope and an overall unit dimension (not exceeding 16 feet in width, 13.5 feet in height and 85 feet in length) which can be transported by conventional tractor trailer. To conform to these dimensional limits the living area window extension as well as weathering steel retaining walls would be attached to the primary enclosure after delivery to the site.
Durability and longevity characterize both exterior and interior. The soil and grasses of the site are a naturally renewable exterior cladding for the primary steel building envelope, weathering steel window and door surrounds age to a permanent natural finish, while wood and concrete create a warm low maintenance interior.
Location: Mill Run, Pennsylvania, United States
Date: 2010 – unrealized
Client: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Area: 500 sq ft
Architect: Patkau Architects Inc.
Project Team: John Patkau, Patricia Patkau with Gregory Boothroyd, Thomas Schroeder, Tyler Brown, Patrick Danielson, James Eidse, Chad Manley, Shane O’Neil, Dave Reeves, and Luke Stern
Structural: Robert Silman Associates
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing: CJL Engineering
Local Architects: GBBN Architects
Images: Patkau Architects
Photos: James Dow / Patkau Architects