Weekend Cabin: San Juan Islands, Washington



I approach Weekend Cabin from two perspectives. The first is from a personal viewpoint — does this cabin call to me on some fundamental human level? Do I want to be there, stay there, and linger? The second is a bit more objective — I look at the dwelling as a statement about man, structure, and environment, I view it as if studying a piece of art in a gallery and try to understand what the designer, artist, or architect wants to say. That’s why some of the cabins that show up here aren’t actually cabins — they’re bigger, or smaller, or they’re cold and modern instead of warm and loggy. I don’t necessary like every cabin I share with you, but I find them all engaging, intriguing, and worth considering at length.

And over the last few months I’ve gotten trapped into giving you what I think you want — for the most part, homey and traditional cabins, the kind that make you feel all fuzzy inside. Predictability is the first step on the road to complacency, however, and I don’t want to fall into that pit. Weekend Cabin, just like adventure, is about exploring, not just being comfortable.

Hence the cabin — or house — known as Shadowboxx, located in the San Juan Islands. Olson Kundig Architects are masters of the modern cabin, and many of their designs border on the pretentious. Shadowboxx with two Xs, it’s safe to say, crosses that border. But it’s still a fascinating structure, and when I discovered the short film on it, it brought the cabin to life in ways the still photos couldn’t.

“Shadowboxx responds to a desire to facilitate an intimate understanding of this special place and explores the tradition of gathering around a fire,” write the architects. “Tucked between a thicket of trees and a rising bank, the house sits in a natural clearing created by the strong winds that force back the trees from the rocky bank. The building purposely confuses the traditional boundaries between a built structure and its surroundings. Its masses are modeled by winds off the water, exterior cladding is allowed to weather and rust, and shifting doors, shutters, walls and roofs constantly modulate the threshold between inside and outside.”

Yes, exactly. Although I find the moveable elements of the house a bit overbearing, it’s this interaction between inside and outside that is the most compelling to me — porches, alcoves, vestibules, mud rooms, overhangs, outdoor showers…the intertidal zone between natural and man-made is where the outdoor person perhaps is most at home, most him- or herself. Because much as we can slip on a pack and disappear into the backcountry for days at time, safely, easily, we do take tents; we are creatures of shelter, genetically, and this neither/both space let’s us experience the two at once.

Do I like Shadowboxx? The question is irrelevant. I’d like to stay there, to spend time on what is clearly an amazing site, and experience the interaction between wind, light, and structure for myself. Watch the video and see if you feel the same.

Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.

{ 7 comments…read them below or write one }

  • adam

    Yes, inside to outside interaction is the most intriguing moment…and yet the film is 90% shots from the outside looking back to the house

    olson kundig does beautiful work, but tom kundig’s gizmos have become cheesy instead of happy moments of wonder and surprise

  • Sylvester

    i think this is ingenious, bringig the outside in and vice versa…although i wonder what is the price tag of this. and, can i cabin-sit please?

  • Dan

    An amazing work of thoughtful design! I am an Architect, and I know that the Architects responsible for this design are ingenious. Obviously pictures and video cannot replace being physically present to experience the space, but we can all be inspired by the subtle design decisions displayed here for our enjoyment. What an incredibe site! Note that this work shows restraint and respect for place without turning into a log cabin…. As for the word cheesy, try using more description and reasoning in your criticism; you will then provide a more compelling argument for your subjective opinion. The movable elements demonstrate a beautiful relationship to the natural world, the climate, physical utility and personal enjoyment!

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