A House on Puget Sound
by Robert W. Knight
For over 50 years, a secluded spot at the bottom of a cliff facing Puget Sound in Washington has been home to a cluster of unassuming cottages and cabins, known locally as "camps." Down here, at the watery edge of an otherwise predictable Seattle suburb, a small group of neighbors and friends have enjoyed salmon derbies, sunsets, and an incredible level of privacy with little change for two generations.
A few winters back, after some torrential rainstorms, the cliff subsided and one of the cabins that was here ended up in the sound. The city was willing to let the owners rebuild, but only if the new house was constructed to withstand a similar event in the future.
That's when Seattle architect Tom Lenchek (of Balance Associates) got involved. Tom and his engineer, Jay Taylor, came up with a design that uses a series of giant trusses anchored into massive concrete retaining walls and the sea wall itself. The whole structure provides a frame built to withstand the horizontal pressure of a mudslide trying to push the house into the sound as well as the weight of a pile of earth on the roof.
For added protection, Lenchek and Taylor created a built-up, laminated roof with alternating layers of plywood and insulation. Because these layers vary between rigid and ductile, like a bulletproof vest, the roof will withstand the puncturing pressure of trees, rocks, and other large objects falling on the house from the steep hillside above.
The engineering alone is impressive, but what really stands out is the way the building captures the casual rhythm of the surrounding houses and re-creates the feeling of immediacy to the water that gives these camps their unique character. >>>
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This article is excerpted from A House on the Water: Inspiration for Living at the Water's Edge by Robert W. Knight, with permission of the publisher, Taunton Press.
A house on Puget Sound, designed by Tom Lenchek, is two separate buildings with a connecting breezeway.
Photo: Randy O'Rourke
Dynamic trusses overhead contrast with the down-home quality of the interior finishes at living level.
Photo: Randy O'Rourke
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