Page B1.2 . 26 July 2000                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
  • Inspired by Gaudi, Built by Hand
  • Industrial Facility Turns to the Arts
  • Cashing in on Energy-Sensitive Design

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    Inspired by Gaudi, Built by Hand


    The floor plan evolved as a series of rooms arranged in a spiral, beginning with a bedroom, followed by a laundry room, a bathroom, another bedroom, a studio, family room, kitchen, solarium, study, and a third bedroom. The rooms would be connected by a meandering hallway that would also lead to a second bathroom, and a stairway descending to a cavernous basement workshop for Will and a two-car garage.

    "The house just flows," says Beth. "There's a reason you always see curvy dirt pathways worn into the grass between a grid of sidewalks. People don't naturally walk in straight lines."

    They designed their 2,300-square-foot home to be sunk into the hillside, leaving little sunlit land left for gardening. So they decided to cover the roof with dirt, which would also serve as insulation, keeping the house cool on the hottest days of summer.

    To let in light, they punctured 23 holes in the roof, at least one for every room, and covered them with Plexiglas bubbles. The studio, family room, and kitchen all face south and are fitted with a total of nine flat-paned windows, each nearly seven feet tall and three feet wide, angled inward to maximize sunlight.

    Because they wanted to sculpt, not just build, their home, they decided to work with concrete, a material that was strong yet malleable. In 1977, they took a plaster model of their house to Alan Gaylord, a Portland-based structural engineer. It proved to be one of the most challenging projects of Gaylord's career. Knowing the house would be built by two inexperienced adults and two small children, he simplified the blueprints and designated materials that would be easy to work with, such as rebar that was strong enough yet relatively easy to bend.

    Construction began during the summer of 1978 and lasted until 1989, largely because most of the activity was confined to weekends. It's a prolonged story told by the images in the Hathaway's photo albums: son Remy as a toddler, manning a bulldozer with his father; Beth wiring metal lath to basement walls criss-crossed with rebar; sons Aaron and Remy, now ten and seven, feeding rebar into a metal cutter; Will, now with gray hair, leaning on a solarium window frame; the boys as teenagers, mixing, pouring and spraying plaster on walls and ceilings, sixteen tons in all; Beth watering the roof garden.

    Together, the Hathaways had mastered the unfamiliar tasks of excavators, metal workers, masons, roofers, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, and finish carpenters. Nearly every day, there would be at least one new challenge to overcome.

    When the sprayed concrete, which was applied by a team of swimming pool builders--one of the few jobs that required help from professionals--initially blew right through the porous metal lath they had wired to the rebar skeleton of the house, an artist friend pointed out that Jean Dubuffet, a French sculptor who worked with cast concrete, covered his wire armatures with cheesecloth to keep the material from oozing through his wire forms.

    Amazingly, there were no show stoppers, nothing they couldn't figure out in time. Admittedly, it took twelve years.

    Will discovered he had made a major mistake after the family finally moved into what the neighborhood children called their "Smurf House" in the summer of 1987: despite Beth's reservations, he had only allotted room for two closets. But Beth shrugs this off with a laugh, pointing out that they'd be better off with fewer clothes, not more closets.

    Beth and Will saw the project as a practical way to school their sons. Remy recalls, "We always complained pretty loudly that none of the other kids in the neighborhood had to help build their parents' house. But in retrospect, I'm glad they made us do it. It helped us understand and appreciate the way things work, which is an aptitude most people lack today."

    "I'm completely satiated by this place," Beth concludes. "What I like most about it is the way light hits the surfaces. It's like we're living in a house yet we feel like we're outside. We're completely protected but aware of what's transpiring in the environment."

    Will muses: "Every so often, I'll look up and say, 'Wow, we get to live in this.' This is where I want to spend the rest of my life."

    Ted Katauskas is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

    This article originally appeared in the Summer 1999 issue of Oregon Home magazine.

    Project Credits

    Owners and builders: Beth and Will Hathaway
    Structural engineer: Alan Gaylord


    ArchWeek Photo

    Doorways and ceilings are arched in comfortable forms.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    Despite being largely underground, the extensive glazing keeps the occupants in touch with the natural environment.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    Even on cloudy Oregon winter days, the rooms are filled with light and warmth.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    The snaking hallways between rooms are brightly illuminated by Plexiglas skylights.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    "No one walks in straight lines."
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    Twenty-three skylights provide light to every room in the house.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography

    ArchWeek Photo

    Handmade tiles face the undulating outdoor steps.
    Photo: Kip Kaufman Photography


    Click on thumbnail images
    to view full-size pictures.

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