Universally adored and the recipient of an impressive number of awards including the 2008 National Design Award, coffee table book-friendly Seattle architect Tom Kundig is best known for his unfathomably gorgeous homes that seamlessly meld
into the natural environments in which they are situated (a super-dramatic case in point: the Pierre
in the San Juan Islands).
In recent months, however, Kundig has managed to both steal the breath from and provoke the ire of residents living in Washington’s outdoor recreation-heavy Methow Valley due to his cantilevered weekend cabin and its decidedly non-harmonious — the modular structure juts precariously over a cliff atop Flagg Mountain — relationship with the landscape surrounding it.
Although stunning and impressively sustainable in design, the Kundig-designed and co-owned cabin is being called an unsightly blemish on an otherwise unfettered natural landscape — the “only private intrusion on a virtually unadulterated ridgeline in the entire upper Methow Valley.”
Cocerned Methow Valley residents — many living full or part-time in the tiny community of Mazama — pushing for the modernist prefab structure to be relocated from its eyesore-ish perch believe that Kundig along with Seattle-based builder Jim Dow of Schuchart/Dow acted in direct defiance of a covenant established in 1987 that requires future owners of the mountaintop parcel to “to minimize the visual impact of any structures on the Mazama community as a whole.”
All improvements placed on the property shall be constructed with restraint and special sensitivity and consideration in order to minimize the visual impact of any such improvements on adjoining parcels and on all other lands, including lands located on the floor of the Methow Valley and all other lands which have a direct line of sight to the property.
The irked locals behind the grassroots Move the Hut
campaign also believe that the offending structure is in violation of Methow Valley’s “Good Neighbor Handbook” which explicitly states that "ridgeline houses permanently mar the scenic beauty that many treasure in the Methow Valley.”
Opponents suggest that relocating the structure to another less intrusive spot on the property is the only appropriate solution, one that would still allow Kundig and the home's co-owners to enjoy some truly knockout views.
Because of its modular and pre-fab nature, the owners were able to erect this structure very quickly using a crane, before anyone really understood what was happening and before the community could react. But that nature also make it relatively easy to move. And there is ample room on the property where the structure can be moved and from which the views are ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. There is no inevitable conflict between the owners' desire to have a great view and the community's interest in maintaining the natural environment and scenic views from the valley floor.
In addition to an online petition which has been signed by hundreds of individuals both from North Cascade communities such as Mazama, Twisp, and Winthrop and far away as New York, Kundig and others involved with the cabin are being sued by Flagg Mountain property owners including those who sold Kundig the parcel. The lawsuit — seeking “a restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunctions and damages for violation of the protective covenants placed on the property by former property owners, the plaintiffs” — was filed in April. In May, Kundig’s camp filed a motion to dismiss the complaint although an Okanagan County Superior Court judge ruled that the case will proceed but without two of the original plaintiffs. The defendants have since filed a motion to reconsider that ruling.
When reached by phone by the Seattle Weekly
, Kundig himself declined to comment in depth on the matter due to the ongoing legal proceedings. He did point out, however, that the cabin will “live light on the land,” noting that it is "an 800-square-foot hut that’s off the grid. It harvests the sun. It harvests water.”
In a letter dated Jan. 9, Dow further details the low-impact nature of Kundig’s design:
Tom Kundig designed this cabin with the valley’s natural elements and respect for its ecology, wildlife, history, and residents as a priority. His structure is intended to feel and act in the spirit of the valley’s traditions and history of agriculture, forestry, and ranching. All structural and building systems and aesthetics are rooted in a pragmatic, functional approach to the existing environment, embracing the beauty on its existing basis.
Tom ensured that the cabin would have a small footprint – both in size and environmental impact. To accomplish these objectives, he limited it to 850 square feet and made it highly energy efficient.
Further on in the letter, Dow details the cabin’s various green building elements including “cross-laminated wood made from trees killed by bark beetles” and its various renewable energy systems including wind and solar power.
Impressive and sensitive, yes, but this all doesn’t matter to local residents like Midge Cross who, focused on siting only, describes the controversial cabin as “like a boil sitting up there,” to Wenatchee World
. “Tom Kundig has, on more than one occasion, talked about how people should be subservient to their environment. For him to talk that out of one side of his mouth, and then build this — it’s astonishing to me," she adds. Ouch.
Aside from Cross, one of the more vocal opponents of the Kundig cabin is Bill Pope, owner of the Mazama Country Inn
and one of the organizers of Move the Hut. He states in a recent release issued by the campaign:
The community is overwhelmingly in step on this. What you see in this area, or rather what you don’t see—this didn’t happen by accident. Over the years, decades, in fact, the community has developed a common vision to help preserve the special landscape here. Building on ridges definitely runs counter to all that this community believes in.
The people care deeply about this landscape. We believe the hut owners’ private aesthetic shouldn’t trump the public one. We can only hope the owners are hearing our voice and will move the hut. They will truly be welcomed members of this community when they do.
An interesting — and rather fiery — battle, to be sure. As a former Washington resident familiar with this remote and spectacularly beautiful area, I can see the reason for the outrage. Yet at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine Kundig, an architect with such utmost respect for the natural world who has worked in the Methow Valley before
(just not on mountain ridges), embroiled in all of this.
Lots more including imagery, correspondence between the plaintiffs and defendants, and extensive background on the whole skirmish at the Move the Hut homepage where you can also, if so inclined, sign an online petition to have the structure moved.
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