by Sunena V MajuOct 03, 2022
Built to withstand the wildfires California is susceptible to, the CAMPout residence near Lake Tahoe designed by Faulkner Architects stays true to its name, serving as a 'base camp for adventure' for its inhabitants, a family of four, with a passion for mountaineering. The house gains distinction in its one-storey, simple, and boxy form, half buried in the American site, allowing the natural landscape to dominate, and letting itself recede into a calm introversion.
The dwelling in its forthright presence enjoys a luxurious solitude, conceived as a calm shelter able to withstand the frequency and magnitude of forest fires. The exterior walls are made of concrete and 16-gauge weathering steel—materials widely known for being non-combustible, creating a largely fire-resistant barrier that protects its unfinished, native cedar insides. Engineered wood and steel were employed for the structural frame. The combination of the adopted tones and materiality of the house creates a consistent aesthetic that is rustic, warm, bucolic, and modern at the same time, creating a building form that is protective.
The home stands out in the context of its neighbouring mountain homes, owing to a precise and 'sensuous assembly of unprocessed materials' that references the site. "There is minimal difference in the material deployment inside and out. The exterior is left to weather and take on the character of the site," the principal architect of Faulkner Architects, Gregory Faulkner tells STIR. A reverence for modern craftsmanship and subtle details lines, the 353 sqm abode comprises four sleeping rooms, a gathering space, a garage as well as a private outdoor area.
The American architects were tasked by the San Francisco-based family to help them expand an existing property near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the US. The rustic and modern residential design rests serene on a north-facing slope, overlooking the Martis Valley and gazing up towards the Lookout Mountain through a natural screen of century old Jeffrey pine trees. According to the project lead, the site came with an existing guesthouse and an unrealised main house.
"In our world today, much of the built work is driven by visual appearance. Symbolic forms and arbitrary material deployment remind us of our history. Usually, these collages of comfort for the eye ignore their contexts that should affect the work in a tangible way. Wooden, furniture-like houses built in an ever-expanding migration to the wild lands that are at risk of fire appear to thumb their noses at the danger and the sun and the wind. At CAMPout, a comprehensive rigour and consistent deployment of materials based on building, sized the decision-making and instilled a sense of calm and connection for the whole assemblage and ultimately the family,” Faulkner shares with STIR.
“The house was inspired by the lifestyle of the client who daily skis up the adjacent mountain and skis down. Avid campers and explorers, they customised a jeep with camp gear and enhanced off-road capability to reach remote places in the nearby wilderness. To tap into their enhanced experience with the outdoors, spaces surrounding the courtyard are activated by the flickering light of the fire at night. The home is simultaneously a base camp for adventure and a serene escape from the clients’ city life,” he elaborates.
Situated in the shadow of an extinct volcano (lying some 731 m away), the contextual architecture is dug into the slope, with sleeping areas wrapping a courtyard, ensuring privacy from neighbours. An insulated concrete pavilion linking the house’s courtyard design to the distant views beyond essays the family’s gathering space.
A thin, tent-like, half-inch thick steel shed roof pitches up ever so gently, to welcome the south sun inside the dwelling, and opens views to the ski runs on the mountain. Double 20 cm concrete walls are fitted with foam insulation between them, extending up to the roof on the low side, while clerestory windows enclose the triangular space between the roof and concrete walls of CAMPout.
The reserved yet powerful contextual design surrounds a concealed, open-air courtyard fitted with a fire pit. The fire’s light shines through the home’s steel windows and onto the sugar pine walls and basalt floor. The exterior windows were kept smaller, like ‘snapshot views,’ focusing on limiting exposure to potential fires.
“In 2021, the Caldor Fire came within 40 kilometers of this project location and destroyed one thousand structures. Buildings were ignited by airborne embers, landing on roofs or by igniting vegetation which in turn ignited the houses. As climate change increases the incidence and magnitude of wildfire events and we continue to reach further into the wild landscape with development, we must enhance the construction systems and materials to withstand these disasters. Early regard for these factors should be considered along with all other contextual attributes. The form can take on a protective posture. Materials can be non-combustible,” Faulkner continues.
Upon entry, a glimpse of the house’s open-air courtyard is seen to the right, while the pavilion comes into the vision to the left. The pavilion has a protective, kind, and rustic nature with concrete walls and sugar pine ceilings, with steel sash glass doors that open to connect with the courtyard. Access to the powder room lying next is found through a solid door, with bedrooms and a laundry space concealed behind the sugar pine walls and doors, replete with clean lines and warm tones. These spaces are discovered in leisure and calm, as one moves along the full-height glazing. “This behaviour is repeated on the opposite side of the court with access to the media and family room, as well as the garage/mudroom,” the architects share.
The wedge-shaped, clerestory glazing of the concrete architecture wraps the interior with light. Large doors open the living pavilion to the courtyard and to the valley below, promoting natural ventilation. The spaces around the courtyard promote family life with a connection to the outdoors. The courtyard is unexpected upon entry and is concealed upon approach. The light and weather flooding into a room open to the sky is a start and immediately reconnects us to the landscape in a visceral way.
Faulkner tells STIR that "owing to the solar shading provided by the nearby mountain, the overhanging conifer trees, as well as six months of snow cover, a passive energy design approach was adopted. Insulated concrete walls, a roof of steel and aggregate-covered, fire-rated membrane combine with laminated steel sash glazing to form a fire-resistive shell. Smoke is visible in the photographs, the effect of distant wildfires and a constant reminder of the potential danger from wildfire."
The calm and functional material palette is derived from CAMPout’s surrounding context, of basalt boulders and sugar pines that beautify the forest floor with a mat of rust-coloured pine needles. The full-height glazing was kept limited to the exterior faces, running continuously to respond to its combustible surroundings and maximised in the courtyard, where the light and screen of the pine forest safely connect with the interior design.
The inclusion of concrete and steel sash-tempered windows of the American architecture creates a ‘fire-resistive barrier’ and helps secure a native cedar interior that is intentionally left unfinished, giving the largely fireproof residence its characteristic warmth and refined rawness. Basalt floors were chosen for the residential architecture, to reinforce the surrounding landscape that includes basalt boulders, while blackened steel casework associates with the exposed steel. The glazed access placed around the court links the sleeping rooms and main pavilion to the courtyard and fire, much like a campsite. “Furnishings share the same materials and tonal qualities further reinforcing a quiet presence that allows the glowing landscape to resonate,” shares Faulkner Architects, with offices in Truckee and Berkeley, California.
Faulkner Architects is revered in their pursuit of conceiving modern projects with a prevailing aesthetic, that pay utmost attention to the sites they reside in, and the CAMPout residence is no different. Their endeavour of creating a fire-resistant dwelling is a strong push towards architects creating buildings that speak wanton with the site, heeding themselves to the landscape they belong to, being sensitive and ready for the inevitable effects of climate change. Achieving this contemporary architecture firmly rooted in nature within one of the most common American cities prone to wildfires is no mean feat, demonstrating the great potential of mindful design that caters wholeheartedly to the lifestyles of its inhabitants.
Location: San Francisco, California, United States
Area: 353.03 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Faulkner Architects
Design team: Gregory Faulkner (AIA, Principal), Christian Carpenter (LA, Project Architect), Jenna Shropshire (Project Manager), Ann Darby (AIA, Architect)
Interior Designer: NICOLEHOLLIS
General Contractor: Jim Morrison Construction
Structural: CFBR Structural Group
Civil: Shaw Engineering
MEP: Sugarpine Engineering
Surveyor: Webb Land Surveying, Inc.
Geotechnical: Nortech Geotechnical Consultants
Title 24: Monterey Energy Group