Wren, Oregon

In designing a studio for a philosophy professor and writer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Erin Moore, of FLOAT Architectural Research and Design in Eugene, wanted to create a structure that would leave no permanent mark on the lush natural landscape. Her client had one additional request — that she hear the sound of falling rain on the roof.

Watershed House

Moore designed the retreat, dubbed “Watershed House,” for several acres of the client’s property designated as part of a watershed ecological restoration project. She approached it as a test case for a structure that would not require major excavation or road access. More important, the component parts of the studio would be fully recyclable and detachable, allowing the building to be completely dismantled and reused when its natural life cycle ended.

The resulting building contains just one, 100-square-foot room, with a writing desk and several cabinets for storage space. No electrical, plumbing, or heating systems are included; the studio relies entirely on passive solar heating and ventilation for its occupant’s needs. Although the Willamette Valley is fairly temperate, Moore claims these passive systems have surpassed expectations, providing adequate heat even in last winter’s unusually harsh conditions. The largest window, which faces south, is shaded in the summer but admits ample light and heat in the winter.

The architect built the one-room studio using a prefabricated steel frame, which rests on a foundation composed of four concrete pads. Because the design philosophy called for as much flexibility as possible to dismantle or replace prefab components, few fixed fasteners were used. Instead, Moore floated the window glass, sills, headers, and tongue-and-groove planks into dado channels. The floor rests on the steel frame, buffered by rubber car-engine mounts.

The roof is made of a polycarbonate diaphragm that is translucent but still helps offset heat gain. A generous overhang protects the walls from Oregon’s notorious rainfall. And, as a unifying aesthetic feature, the roof channels rainwater into a freestanding, partially covered basin that serves as a reflecting pool and the front step.

While FLOAT won’t know for years if the studio successfully fulfills its environmentally harmonious, footprintless, sustainable intentions, the goal of integrating the hut with the ecosystem has exceeded expectations. The water basin attracts wild turkeys, songbirds, and deer; the roof provides a hangout for swallows; and a gopher snake now lives underneath the house.

Originally published in our April 2009 issue.