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Text description provided by the architects. Perched atop a plot covered in sagebrush, bitterbrush, and juniper, Octothorpe House is the site of a woodland lost to bushfires two decades ago. Ponderosa pine forests can be seen from a distance as arid desert lands transition to dense vegetation. We’re in Bend, a small town (257 kilometers southeast of Portland, Oregon. A popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts, close to the trails, Deschutes River and Mirror Pond, nearby Cascade Lakes, and the ski slopes of Mount Baylors Ski Resort and the Cascade Mountains. The area has sweeping scenery to the snow-capped peaks of the Three Sisters Mountains and Deschutes River National Forest.
clients and their feed. For years, clients Mike and Katherine had considered moving out of their San Francisco home—also designed by Mork-Ulnes in 2011—to allow their young children to enjoy a life centered around the outdoors. Not an isolated option for families who are part of an apparent exodus from San Francisco and other major cities in the United States, an exodus that began before the pandemic and is now at its peak. The couple, who are originally from the UK and Texas, are technologically advanced. Around 2016, they purchased a plot of land in Bend, Oregon, drawn by the local climate—typical of the high desert with arid summer months as well as snowy winters, cool nights, and sunny days—and by the varied lake and mountain terrain, trails, and desert terrain that allows for a plethora of outdoor activities.
The clients had quite a few requests for their new home, specifically that it be environmentally progressive and offer a high level of flexibility while embracing the desert landscape. They needed two bedrooms for themselves and their children and two guest bedrooms for frequent visitors and family abroad; Additionally, in order to optimize square footage on a budget, they required flexible spaces for flexible uses – guest room/office, outdoor patio/outdoor playroom, garage/indoor playroom.
construction method. Cross Laminated Timber construction is a low-waste, high-efficiency construction method where all materials are pre-cut off site allowing construction waste to be responsibly recycled at the plant. All of the Octothorpe House’s CLT panels are constructed from sustainably harvested SFI/COC wood that’s glued and laminated with a low-VOC adhesive at a plant in Montana. Due to its CLT construction, this project has an expected carbon embodiment of 25 tons within its walls, avoiding 15 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
The interior walls of the house are almost exclusively laminated panels made of pine, spruce and fir with a natural oiled finish (except for the wet areas in the bathroom), which results in great air and acoustic properties. Shou Sugi Ban—a burnt cedar wood that is waterproof, decay-resistant, insect-proof, and fire-resistant—was used on the outside, and requires almost no maintenance over time.
Concept. The single-story dwelling measures 3,340 sq ft (310 sq m), revealing an ingenious floor plan layout. Four cross bars with shed roofs divide the scheme into public and private areas, with a fully enclosed courtyard in the center of the building and seven semi-enclosed lobbies at its perimeter to bring light and air into each room.
In plan, the house is organized around a simple grid of rectangles that dictates the size of the rooms and courtyards. There are no corridors, rather a seamless sequence of rooms following one another. Residents can move around or cross the central courtyard when the doors are open.
The criss-cross plan also lends itself to cross-ventilated air movement, providing relief from hot summer days. It also incorporates operable concealed sunshades to protect south-facing rooms from the intense Oregon desert sun.
Interiors. The interiors are inspired by Donald Judd’s Chinatown establishment in Marfa Texas, with earthy hues and sculptural forms shaping the space. The color palette was supposed to paint the desert landscape. Wool and felt upholstery in geometric patterns are mixed with natural leather and wood.
Mork-Ulnes contacted frequent collaborator and wood furniture artist Yvonne Mouser to create a unique coffee table for the main living space inspired by the “Three Sisters” volcanic peaks visible from the living room sofa. I fashioned a table of three blocks of sawed Douglas fir with a blow torch, cutting through the gray glass table top like seams of a geological cross-section.
Planning. The home is organized around a series of light-filled spaces – entryway, kitchen, living room, bedrooms and lounge area – which all provide coordinated glimpses into the central courtyard and expansive views of the sky and desert all around, shrouded in snow in the colder months. The non-stereotypical organization of the spaces creates a pleasant connection with the surroundings. Rock formations and native shrubs and bushes surround the dwelling, further integrating it with its rugged location.
Inspired by the colors and textures of the surrounding landscape, the home harmonizes with the muted palette of its high desert surroundings. Outside, the Shou Sugi Ban cedar plank takes on a dull ash colour. The interior space is almost entirely monolithic, smooth cross laminated panels made of pine, spruce and spruce creating an intimate and cozy feel. The home’s most striking, yet ephemeral, quality is the immaterial sense of freedom.
The central and perimeter courtyards provide views of the sky while bringing ample natural light inside and providing optimal ventilation. During the spring, summer and fall, the living space in the courtyards expands. When the sliding doors are open, the house is completely porous, filling with a steady stream of scents and sounds transmitted from outside. During the winter, passive heating is transmitted through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and although isolated from its surroundings, the residence enhances the feeling of being outdoors indoors.