Sticks and stones: a Blue Ridge Mountain retreat

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Given a sloping wooded site in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the problem of the thesis project was to design a retreat that would fit the environment and the people that would inhabit it. It was a searching for the interdependence between the landscape and the building. Equally important was a search for a structure that would give architectural integrity to the house.

The design process included a time of discovery and clarification of values and priorities. Two additional steps during the schematic design were processes architect Charles Moore referred to as"mapping" and"collecting''. These processes help to establish relationships between the inhabitants and things they recognize.

Structural elements of post and beam construction gave a sense of order in the design layout and helped to organize the spaces within the form of the house. A system of equidistant columns formed by four wood posts also provided the physical linkage between the building and the site. Native field stone was used for the large piers that supported the columns as well as for the perimeter walls of the living room structure.

The inner landscape of the house, the pathways, the rooms and the machines within them, developed from the basic idea that the building would grow from a central axis or “spine” that originated from the outside at the street's edge, extended across the site,and moved into the building to become the main artery of the structure as well as the connection between outside and inside.