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Nature Won 2018’s Best Architecture

Posted by Johnine Larsen on November 19, 2018
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Nature dominated the submissions at this year’s Honor Awards for Washington Architecture. The Honor Awards celebrate the best new projects by Washington State architects, and this year’s submissions had me yearning for some open houses—and also for the wild beauty all around us.

Many of this year’s submissions focused on the natural world, whether by:

  • imitating natural curves and organic structure,
  • bringing gardens and open air into the building itself,
  • maximizing windows, natural light, and gorgeous views, or
  • blurring the lines between landscape and building.

You can see all the submissions here. They’re easily worth an hour or two of online exploring. You’ll pine for these buildings, guaranteed, and they even might inspire your own remodeling or home-buying choices down the road.

Here are the ones I loved most. If you have a favorite of your own, let me know as a comment! I could obsess about this architecture for days (or years).


The Hill

“A family home unites the demands of an extensive program with hierarchy, plasticity, natural light, blurring of interior/exterior space and a unique connection to the natural landscape. Building elements are organized into attached/detached pavilions based on program, hierarchy of structure and levels of privacy. The pavilions are dislocated around a unifying north/south glass spine/bridge that allows for an abundance of natural light, compelling vistas through the building to the surrounding landscape, lake, and beyond. The push-pull of building elements around the organizing circulation spine generates intriguing exterior landscaped spaces that inhabit the zones between each pavilion. A simple, cyclical palette of wood, stone, concrete, steel, and expansive window walls allows the architecture to recede and let nature take center stage.”

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Laurelhurst MidCentury

“The owners, a young family with two children, had recently moved into a midcentury home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Seattle. Designed by Ibsen Nelsen in 1961, the layout of the home was immediately appealing but the character and flow between spaces wasn’t a good fit for the patterns of their daily life.

The design task was to renovate the home while respecting its soul and extending its lifespan. High on the owner’s wish list were increased physical and visual connections between rooms and with the outdoors. A central feature of the original design was a courtyard garden, experienced primarily through the living room. Careful reconsideration of the openings surrounding this intimate space reframed it as a tranquil organizing element of the house, central not just to the living room but also to the entry, the daily circulation and the more informal spaces of the home.”

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Bailer Hill

“Located on the southwestern shore of San Juan Island, the Bailer Hill house arose from the client’s desire to remain rooted in the rocky site while taking full advantage of its expansive views. To maximize these aspirations, the program was divided into a series of rectangular volumes cut into the earth, stacked and arrayed toward specific views. Each volume functions as a telescope, anchored to its place and focused into the distance. As the volumes rise above the site, exterior walls extend to grade, creating a form that remains connected to the ground below. Green roofs accentuate this effect, as one can walk out from even the topmost story onto solid, natively-planted ground.”

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Washington State University Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center

“Set at the main entrance to Washington State University’s Pullman Campus, the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center establishes a sense of place that is expressed through the primal form of the building that flows across its landscape. Inspired by an indigenous philosophy of respect and interdependence between humans and nature, entries and communal spaces open onto a restored native Palouse Prairie. The Cultural Center’s form is influenced by the region’s native Nez Perce tribe, erasing the line that distinguishes the built form and surrounding landscape as they once did with their settlement dwellings.”

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Hood Cliff Retreat

“Hood Cliff Retreat is located on a 1.13 acre site atop a bluff on a wooded site on the western shore of Hood Canal in the Pacific Northwest. As avid bird watchers and naturalists, the clients wanted a family retreat that would immerse them in the stillness of the forest and capture the delicate Washington sunlight and views toward Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains to the west.

A cedar cabin built in 1962 was originally on the site. The dark and opaque original cabin left the owners feeling cut off from nature, and they asked for a more open retreat that would allow them to be closer to the land and also house an expanded program of three additional bedrooms and sleeping quarters for their extended family. The project thus has three elements: 1) The repurposed 20’ x 20’ footprint of the original cabin, 2) the cabin addition, and 3) a new bunkhouse and bathroom to the north.”

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