words Riya Patel
Wedged into the rock of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago off the northwest coast of the USA, is the Pierre, Olson Kundig Architects' remarkable home for an art collector. The bunker-like house sits part buried in a boulder, a protective vault for its owner's collections. Designed to embody the primitive principles of "prospect" and "refuge" – one side opens to an expansive view of the Salish Sea, while the other backs onto a small, dense forest.
Lead architect Tom Kundig describes the unique landscape as being made up of water, meadow and "little mountains" – rocky outcrops that are geological remnants from the last Ice Age. The idea to build into the rock follows the tradition of hill town homes found in Italy, Greece, Africa and America that "leave the meadowland free for cultivation and place the home in the part of the landscape that is least useful for agriculture".
The outline of the house was imposed onto the rock's surface and then gouged out using a combination of drilling, blasting and chipping techniques. "It's a somewhat idiosyncratic process," Kundig explains. "We started with an informed design, but as construction got under way there was pushback from the rock as we discovered things about it that modified our plans."
One serendipitous instance was the placing of the master bathroom in a part of the rock with marble-like qualities. The metamorphic rock is "a kind of granite with enough properties of marble for it to be polished into a sink," says Kundig. The bulk of the rock was allowed to intrude into the room and a series of basins were carved out, ground and then finely finished for water to trickle down from one to another, in imitation of nature.
The interplay between house and rock extends throughout the design, along a careful scale of refinement. "We kept as much of the excavated rock as possible for re-use," Kundig says. "Stone chips were ground up to make the terrazzo floors of the dining room … medium-sized rocks make up the foundations and road bed of the path leading up to the house … and larger rocks are stacked in a kind of Fred Flintstone way to make the walls of the carport."
In referencing ancient caves and hill towns Kundig sought "historical permission" for his design. "We had to know that it was possible and that the underlying reasons for what we did were the same as those of our ancestors," he says.
top picture credit Dwight Eschliman
credit Dwight Eschliman