Physical Poetry: Tom Kundig
Photography courtesy Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects
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Today: Little houses, big landscapes
Driving up to Outpost, the Idaho home Kundig designed for Jan McFarland Cox, you know at once this is no ordinary little house on the prairie. Set on twenty acres in Bellevue, Cox’s home rises like a light-filled box at the end of the half-mile driveway. Its exterior materials are lowly—concrete block, car-decking and plywood—all chosen to withstand the harsh, high desert elements. But inside, the residence glows with artwork and astonishing twenty-mile views.
Outpost, one of Kundig’s signature “little houses in big landscapes,” was purpose-built for connection to the outdoors. Strategically placed windows showcase framed vistas and give Cox a front-row seat to watch passing weather, wildlife and the shifting play of light on the land.
“The landscape has been in some ways more important to me than the house,” Kundig said. “I grew up in eastern Washington, in that big-sky, big-scale country, and when you experience landscape at that level, you realize human beings are relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. That’s a good thing, I think, to be humbled by our place.”
A key element of Outpost is its protected “paradise garden,” a long rectangular garden separated from the wild landscape by eleven-foot-high concrete walls. Within, Cox has planted rosebushes, grapevines and fruit trees in orderly espaliered fashion–an almost European ideal. Outside, scrubby sagebrush extends to the far horizon.
This concept of designing spaces of both prospect and refuge is, for Kundig and many other modern architects, the heart of what shelter is all about. “Prospect” satisfies our ancient need to look out from the cliff top and see what’s coming; “Refuge” meets our deep longing to feel protected and secure. “We all need places within a residence where we can pull the blankets up and feel comfortable,” Kundig said.
As for size, “I’m finding that the clients that are drawn to my work are interested in the idea of a house being relatively insignificant to the landscape. Rather than build a residence that is large, expansive and sprawling, they want something intimate, discreet and beautifully done.”