Taking Advantage of a Difficult Building Site
A compound house is joined by a bridge that threads between old fir trees.
Synopsis: An architect explains how he used a covered bridge with one open side facing the water to connect the master suite to the main structure of this house in Washington’s San Juan Islands.
When Bob and Jan Sundquist retired, they wanted to trade their hectic suburban life for one of tranquillity. They wanted a home in a quiet setting, a private place where they could share coffee with a neighbor and enjoy nature’s beauty. They found the site on Lopez Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands. The land was typical of this section of the Washington coastline — a beautiful view of a quiet bay and its rugged, rocky coastline, large cedar and fir trees, alders, and an abundance of ferns and mossy logs. A short walk down a moderately sloped bluff led to a small beach.
On the other hand, it was a steep site, and wet, even by Washington standards, situated near the bottom of a wide draw that sloped down to the north. This topography meant that drainage was important, as was making the most of the limited amount of direct sun, and the 17% slope of the site would require careful excavation.
Working with the site demands unusual solutions — Bob and Jan asked me to design a house where they could enjoy both a sense of shelter and their site’s natural beauty. It was critical to design a house we could build with minimal disturbance to the site. Our greatest concern was three large fir trees growing in the middle of the site and standing in the best location for a house. They survived the previous year’s 100-mph winds, so we figured they were strong, but how to design a house around them was not readily apparent.
After a brainstorming session with…