Shek O Residence, Hong Kong. “Rooted in Tradition”, Architectural Digest, August 2009, pps. 86-91. Architecture and Interior Design by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen. Text by Therese Bissell. Photography by Benjamin Benschneider. Click on images above for larger view.
Scott Allen was interviewed about his leadership role in the designs of six villas in Sheshan, near Shanghai. Click on images below to see full-size text.
Contemporary Solutions for an Olympic Peninsula Home
Renovation Architecture and Interior Design by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Landscape Architecture by Allworth Nussbaum/Text by Therese Bissel/Photography by Erhard Pfeiffer
In the sometimes kaleidoscopic process of executing a residential addition, there comes that moment of truth: Would it, ultimately, make more sense to begin all over with a completely new structure than to proceed with a composite? It’s “the hinge point/’ as architect Scott Allen describes it, “when you have to balance the embodied energy and capital costs of the original building with the overlay of invested time and effort in the current scheme-when you’re sort of halfway across the river.”
His remodel of and addition to a five-year-old Port Ludlow, Washington, house fell subject to such a review–and more than once, as deficiencies were discovered (it was out of plumb and out of square; it was not as solidly built as it appeared–even the stucco wainscot crumbled when lightly tapped). “There were times when we wondered if we should just tear the whole thing down and start from scratch,” confirms Allen, a principal of Seattle-based Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen. But the virtues-a good indoor-outdoor relationship, a logical spatial organization, a nicely volumetric main living area, a well-located kitchen-trumped the ills. And, perhaps most important, Allen remained committed to his initial appraisal of the house as “a place we could hang some pretty interesting new architecture on.”
The resolution-now a contemporary retreat-is a creaseless incorporation of the existing into the freshly conceived. Allen’s group did a comprehensive reinforcing and cosmetic makeover of the original structure while growing the square footage by approximately 60 percent to include the kinds of spaces and amenities desirable to a family with two teenage sons. The key determinant in virtually every aspect of the remodel was the setting. The house would fuse with its Olympic Peninsula site, a wooded five-acre bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet, in ways not possible in its previous incarnation.
Approached from a long, sylvan driveway (“old nurse logs and fallen cedars–Pacific Northwest Tolkienesque,” suggests Allen), the entrance is marked by a steel-and-diffused-glass canopy, a form repeated on the opposite, water side of the house; the paving, too, is consistent from front to back, leading the eye all the way through and reinforcing the basic outside-inside-out-again architectural expression. Allen capitalized on the double-height volume just inside the front door by installing a steel armature that creates the seemingly floating “Zen space,” where a large window.contributes southern light (a premium on the north-facing waterfront) to the circulation node below. There, the overhead piece gives the entrance “a more human scale,” notes Allen, who says he likes “bringing people in low.”
To the immediate right are the public spaces (living, dining, kitchen); past the corridor to the left is the private realm–day room and two bedrooms.The architect performed a modified version of what as a young carpenter in the 1970s he learned as a “planectomy” (cutting a roof in half and lifting it to make a second level). He raised the roof that adjoins the master suite and added an upper-level day/guest room and bath, as well as the hallway to the Zen space. To allow, on the other end of the building, for the spacious teen-friendly recreation room and the service areas-and’, above, the media room–he relocated the garage in one piece rather than tearing it down. “Our big green move,” he says, “is that the whole house·was recycled.”
The materials and colors-interior and exterior (stained cedar in a serious upgrade of the old siding, new metal roofs and window trim)-were selected for their resonance with the dual-ecology site. At one point, Allen gathered rocks, shells and driftwood from the beach and bark from the woods, laying the weathered pieces side by side as inspiration for the muted, richly contextual palette. The locally sourced Douglas fir ceiling beams and battens and the casework (particularly prominent in the kitchen and the master suite) effect, together with the reclaimed-ash floor, a warm wood enclosure in the main living area. The generous use of wood (including the Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen-designed dining and sofa tables made of a single slab of Douglas fir, from which there was enough left over for a table for the game room) and the concrete-and-steel fireplace tie the living spaces in tone and texture to the outdoors, a connection heightened by oversize windows and glass doors.
Landscaping was integral to the holistic makeover, as there existed only an ornamental garden with no relationship to the woodlands. Randy Allworth, of the Seattle landscape architecture firm Allworth Nussbaum, conceived a natural progression from the outlying dense trees to the bluff. Leaving the forest as found, Allworth created a meadow with plantings suited to the cool, maritime climate, employing native grasses and ground covers as well as vine maples, huckleberry and other indigenous vegetation. His office designed the hardscape-precast-concrete-paved entrance path, private patios off the main-floor bedrooms, two terraces (the central one formerly a piecemeal grouping of wood platforms) and an upper deck-so that he “touched,” he says, “every square inch of property adjacent to the house.”
In discussing his clients’ expectations for the project, Allen speaks in broad terms. “It’s always situational,” he explains. “People start where they start. Our job is to pull the dreams out of their psyches and get them On paper. They have a mental inventory of domestic architecture-a rich attic of ideas and memories that pushes them forward. This is true for second homes even more so than for primary residences: that rich family memory of the place on the lake or in the forest.”
What the residence’s owners didn’t want-a point on which their architect was in complete agreement-was the grand lodge in the woods. “There’s a whole different psychology to that kind of building,” Allen says. “This house needed to work for the present and be commodious enough so that it could easily become their primary residence at some later point.” It also had to be a viable, aesthetically reasoned cohesion of old and new elements that would prove, indubitably, to merit the endeavor.
Article reprinted with permission from the October 2008 issue of Architectural Digest, “An Exclusive Look at Homes from the World’s Top Architects”, pps. 234 — 241.