What you see today is not how it looked when it started. In 1959, when Jim Olson was just 18, he was given $500 by his dad to build a bunkhouse on the family’s property in Longbranch on Washington’s Puget Sound. Since then, as his architectural partnership with Tom Kundig has grown and the two have garnered acclaim for the modernist rural projects, the structure, too, has expanded, accreted, and mutated, becoming a laboratory or test piece for his ideas about interaction between shelter and nature.
Olson remodeled the cabin in 1981, 1997, 2003 and 2014, but rather than demolish the original modest shelter, he’s built on top of it, adding layer by layer until it’s become a far cry from the tiny bunkhouse, yet is still a part of it. This approach has served as a foundation for the site: Even at 18, Olson was finding ways to weave the existing with the new. His idea, he told the Daily Journal of Commerce, was to make something that looked “as though it just grew there.”
The best example? Rather than lop them down, the cabin has been built around three trees that have grown up on the site. Today, the cabin is 2,400 square feet and bigger than many family houses, but still is integrally connected to the woods that surround it.
“It is bigger and it isn’t invisible anymore, but it does completely weave in and out of the trees…The forest actually is part of the design.”
The bunkhouse served as ground zero for more than 20 years, but as his family grew, so did the need for more structure. They added an outhouse with running water and then, as they got into their 60s and found night time trips to the facilities impractical, they added a bathroom aside their bedroom. Now in their 70s, there are more nods to convenience and comfort than in the raw early days. The roots of the bunkhouse, though, are still there.
Photos courtesy Olson Kundig
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.
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