Celebrating, Rain and Shine
The house opens away from the street, out into the natural space beyond it, the true focus, with the silvery lines of its cantilevered rooftops hanging in space over the hillside, drawing the eye from the house to the summit of Spencer Butte, framed between two distant ridges.
"The house is playing with the angles of the butte," notes Van Asperdt. "It's an abstracted butte."
As such, the vertical clear cedar siding on the walls evokes the surrounding trees; every roof, sheathed in gunmetal gray steel, quotes the Oregon sky in winter; and the granite boulders positioned beneath each of the drainage spouts ground the house to the hillside with each drop of falling water.
The name Boesjes and Van Asperdt have given their house suggests both a response to the landscape and a nod to the region's climate, the notoriously protracted wet season of the Pacific Northwest.
When it rains, runoff cascades from a single scupper on each gutterless roof, creating four waterfalls, each cascading onto a boulder atop a metal grate that drains either to an 8,000-gallon (30-cubic-meter) cistern beneath the garage or to a seasonal backyard stream that feeds the wetlands.
"We didn't want to put that water into pipes and have it disappear so it never is useful to us or to nature," explains Boesjes, who received a masters in architecture from Delft Technical College in the Netherlands, where he studied under the Dutch bete noire, Aldo van Eyck.
"These four roofs combined generate 100,000 gallons (380 cubic meters) of rainwater each year. That's a major water problem. There's no reason, in a place like Oregon, where it rains nine months out of the year, we shouldn't collect this water and put it to use."
With the addition of a filtration system, the cistern can provide enough drinking and gray water annually for the couple, their two children, guests, and employees.
In the summer, a fan in the cistern cools the house, pumping 55-degree air into the upper rooms. In the winter, heated rainwater circulates beneath the engineered maple floors.
On the Rocks
The theme is inescapable: a boulder is positioned near every entrance and exit. Even in the drought of summer, the granite is wet with condensation dripping from the scuppers.
"It creates a sense of unity, like a book where there's a reference in the beginning that returns at the end," says Van Asperdt.
The boulders themselves are kinetic sculptures; all but the heaviest rotates with the slightest touch, balanced atop a single stainless steel rod.
Although playful at times, Rainwater is foremost a practical design.
From the driveway, guests enter the most private of spaces, the family sleeping quarters—two small bedrooms and a master suite, plus a bathroom and laundry—located down a hallway immediately to the right of the front door.
Yet this goes unnoticed because the entrance hall balcony overlooks a wall of slender rectangular windows that soar as high as 25 feet from the open floor below.
Each of the windows captures a single tree in its entirety—roots, trunk, and crown—creating an immediate connection with the forest, inviting visitors down a staircase and into the airy living and dining room, barely recognizable as a basement dug deep into the hillside.
"Basements are usually damp, unpleasant spaces," says Boesjes. "I kept this room open to create light, to counter the possibility of this ever having a basement feeling."
On the same wall, to the right of the fireplace, French doors open onto a tiled patio from the dining room, drawing the forest inside, or the diners outside, table and all, as is more often the case in the summer.
Even the children's rooms, located directly above the dining room and adjacent kitchen, have doors, not windows, that open onto French balconies.
"The meaning of door is completely different than window," says Boesjes. "By putting a door there instead of a window, you make this connection with the crowns of the trees, a cloud of branches, a truly three-dimensional space where everything lives. It's subtle but profound."
The designers placed three exposed beams above each door, so the rooms can be lofted as the children grow and require additional space.
The laundry opens into the garage so wet camping gear and clothing can be brought directly into the house. A dumbwaiter in the garage leads to a walk-in pantry in the kitchen so groceries and garbage and recycling can be dispatched unseen.
There's a guest house just off the kitchen for family members who come for frequent extended visits from the Netherlands, and a self-contained two-story office for Boesjes' 24-hour Internet business, where employees and clients can come and go without entering the residence, pausing to spin a wet boulder on their way in and out.
After the roof system was finished in September, 1999, weeks passed without so much as a cloud marring the sky. Then it happened.
"Just as I drove away one day, it started to rain," Boesjes recalls. "I turned around and said 'I've got to see this.'"
Boesjes stepped out of the car and just stood there. Waiting. For ten minutes, there was nothing. Then a deluge, arches of water flowing from the scuppers, splashing onto the rocks, connecting the house with the earth.
Ted Katauskas is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.