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July 9, 2024

Watch Inside a Modern Home With a Detachable Office on Wheels | Unique Spaces

[ethereal music]

[ethereal music]

[Tom] I think kinetic elements are important.

We deal with kinetic elements every day.

We open a door, we open a window.

It’s the place we actually touch the building.

There’s an architect Juhani Pallasmaa,

which has a terrific quote.

He says, When you touch a building,

that’s the handshake with the building.

It’s the most intimate connection

you have with the building.

So if you recognize that, then you should make it

a very special event rather than just a functional event.

[ethereal music]

I’m Tom Kundig, owner of Olson Kundig Architects,

designer of the Maxon residence.

I built the house for the Maxon family,

just a terrific family, Lou and Kim and their three boys.

The creative relationship between Lou and I was

almost like colleagues.

Lou comes with a design background,

and so for us it was a conversation frankly,

about what he was thinking, what I could bring to the table.

The architectural style at its root is modern, modernism.

And what I mean by modernism is it’s a rational

building style.

It’s more than style, it’s almost like a value

is how do you make a building efficient

and deliver it in a package that is also beautiful.

So form follows function, beauty follows function.

In my mind, that’s the definition of modernism.

[ethereal music]

Originally, the speculation of the idea

that you could move a part of the house

happened on a project maybe six or seven years ago

where we were working on a project

that had one particular family member that the rest

of the family really didn’t want to deal with,

and we were just laughing about it

as, Wouldn’t it be great if you could push a button

and then send that bedroom off into the other end

of the property?

But what I did was I brought it back to the office

and our gismologist, Phil Turner,

who’s frankly a genius, we talked about it.

And so he built a little model of a cog.

Wasn’t proven because it wasn’t built,

but Phil, with his background, felt that absolutely it was,

it was possible.

And so the conversation with Lou was,

this is efficient family house.

It’s all about the chaos.

It’s all about how do you raise a family?

Well, this particular house is a relatively small house,

so it’s really hard to get away from that kind of life.

But Lou wanted to remain on site.

He wanted to be with the family.

It was a conversation about maybe he could commute

into the woods, you know, from this house.

[relaxing music]

I am here with Lou Maxon at the entry to the Maxon property.

This is where the gate is

and it sets the spirit of the house

and it’s intentionally very straight, orthogonal

and geometric as a counterpoint to the beauty of the forest,

of course, and the modeled light, that’s speckled light

that’s coming through the forest.

[birds chirping]

As you come into the property,

you don’t see the house at this point,

but as you come around the corner, you begin

to get a little glimpse of the house

as it reveals itself in this landscape.

So this sort of chicane road, which is called

A shifted axis It’s very important in a Japanese garden

where you can’t see where you’re going,

but as you come around the corner, it reveals

where you’re going ultimately.

[ethereal music]

So you’ll notice the house kind of levitates

or floats off the ground

and the ground is allowed to go underneath the house.

So the idea is to float this building kind of gently

off the ground so that it takes that mid story

between the upper forest and the low story.

So there’s a ramp that is taking you from that sort of

ground level to that elevated level at the entry door.

The exterior of the house is formed in a very simple shape

to sort of almost be the ying to the yang

of the natural landscape,

but it’s also made out of a tough material

that’s allowed to weather.

Ideally, the building gets better with time

rather than its great at the beginning

and then it begins to deteriorate.

It’s also the colors fit in with some of the colors

of the bark, some of the colors of the landscape

beyond it’s intended to sort of disappear

into the landscape.

[ethereal music]

This is actually a good example of

what we sometimes call, Anomalies.

And these are like in the Wabi-sabi tradition,

an accident is a good thing

because it gives sort of a humanity.

Next layer to the project.

And actually I just love the way that kind of like, connects

all the way through.

the entry door, and it’s intentionally large

into a relatively smaller, more modest house

for the big welcome into the family’s home.

This is a good example of balanced light.

In the Pacific Northwest, we have actually a large

percentage of cloudy skies,

so you wanna harvest as much light as possible,

but you also want to balance the light.

The glass is floor to ceiling, so as much as possible

it’s opening to the view and to the light,

but also it’s on the part of the building

that’s basically cantilevered above the ground.

So the idea is it feels like you float above the ground.

So there’s a little bit of a different, almost magical

sort of moment when you come into this space,

you feel like you’re hovering in that landscape.

[ethereal music]

The far end that we just came from is the living room,

and at this end, the most private end, is the bedroom.

And the bedroom then is confronting the rails

and the office off in the distance.

That office can come all the way to this window

and then Lou can walk into the private bedroom.

So also you’ve got balanced light from three different

angles blended into this room.

[ethereal music]

The reason for the wide train tracks has a lot to do

with just stability because you got a relatively tall

object here, and you know, you just want to be able

to make sure, I mean, a train has a stability

of a horizontal, physics, basically.

This is very vertical, so you want to really be able

to put that on solid rails in a sense

so that it becomes functional.

The reason for the roughness is Lou’s agenda

where he didn’t want to feel like he was on a Mag Lev.

Train has a certain soul to it because of the grit

and the way it functions.

[mechanism whirring]

And I think it makes perfect sense

that you want to just be able to sort of tell the story

about the materials and the relationship between the rails,

the wheels, and then the building itself.

Lou was able to find these rails

that were built pre 1910 in-

[Lou] Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

[Lou] Bethlehem Steel.

[Tom] This is perfectly level

because obviously you can’t have your car in any way

sort of shift around.

You’ll probably also see the sort of tall proportions,

the reasons for the windows being elongated.

It’s not just as a reference

to the relatively long proportions of the building itself,

but it’s also intentionally picking up

all of the more vertical proportions

of the forest here in the Pacific Northwest.

We talked about this yellow door.

Maybe instinct was on our part that it would be yellow,

but really for Lou, this yellow is much more important

from his research into what yellow means

in the railroad industry.

Warning signs, Burlington Northern graphics.

This has actually got an interesting history behind it.

Yeah, this is an original great Northern switch stand

that they would use to switch the trains off the tracks.

So everything in the project that we found artifact wise

had to be connected to railways

that would’ve served the community here

or in the greater Pacific Northwest.

And we sort of brought back to life some of these artifacts.

This is the original lantern

that would designate when the trains were coming.

This would’ve been full of kerosene,

but we’ve sort of hacked it to work with LED lights today.

The lights actually do come on or will blink

and so when I’m working and the light’s on, someone knows

that I’m in here and not to be bothered.

[ethereal music]

Once the possibility became a reality

that we could actually collaborate

and figure out how to have my studio run on actual

railroad tracks, that’s really where I sort of look back

almost in a nostalgic way to like, growing up

and loving trains, having a train set.

That really reinvigorated my passion for trains.

And it also sort of connected me to the history of Carnation

and the railroading here.

One of the key pieces of the project was figuring out

how we’re gonna actually operate the rail car.

And through some connections I made with actual folks

that work for the railroad, they pointed me to this,

which is basically a locomotive control panel,

which runs even today on diesel and electric locomotives.

So we were able to actually acquire this

and then have our fabrication team sort of hack it to work

with our electric motor system.

So basically it all starts with this brass key,

and once the key is put into the locomotive control,

the key actually becomes the way

that you motorize the studio.

So we’re at the end of the track now,

about to point back towards the house, the home depot,

we go here, and then the studio starts moving.

We can actually change the speed of the the car.

If we want to go slow back home,

or if you’re in a hurry to get home for dinner,

you just slide the locomotive control,

and we pick up speed.

[machine whirring]

[ethereal music]

[Tom] The movement of that building changes the context,

becomes a sort of collected building,

but as soon as it moves, there’s a whole different

sort of perception of that building.

And Lou can choreograph his experience.

He doesn’t have to go to the very end.

He can stop along the way, he can go back,

and it changes the perception of the building.

[ethereal music]

So here we’re in Lou’s world basically,

and as a creative, this is what I just find

personally fascinating is that all we do is we set up

shelves or desks or whatever,

but this is the real interesting stuff.

All the little things that somehow intrigue Lou.

And again, all steel, so you can use magnets

to move things, change things.

So this really is an active collage.

It’s the most exciting part for me personally,

it’s how people actually engage their places.

It brings a humanity to the building.

It brings a poetry to the building.

It tells you a lot about their personality.

Way more than the architecture would.

[ethereal music]

In order to keep this as a tight, disciplined box

for all sorts of functional reasons,

we really didn’t have the geometry

or the space to do a stair.

So we basically did a ladder to go from the lower floor

to the upper floor, but you can’t carry the stuff

that Lou would need and then so Lou thought,

Well, let’s put a dumb weighter in here to carry

some of the heavier stuff to the upper floor.

[ethereal music]

This is the studio upstairs.

It’s relatively clean of stuff.

And of course you can also do chalk on this wall also.

So this is more about thinking and dreaming.

I think this is something kind of interesting

is Lou’s got our model of the house with the office.

[Lou] Which moves on a little magnet.

Was noticing that there’s a Lego model up here

that Lou, or one of your kids possibly built.

So there’s, I think, you know,

these proofing models are some of the most important

design tools we could work with.

And this is elevating off the ground

just for a little bit more of a peaceful,

quiet, in the clouds kind of position,

off the level where the chaos is with the family.

So super important view, a quiet view, a meditative view.

[ethereal music]

The architecture is intentionally,

or should be intentionally responding

to the idiosyncratic nature of the situation,

the client or the climate or whatever.

And as you begin to understand those idiosyncratic

situations, you begin to use all the tools on your belt

to basically come up with a route

or come up with a solution.

And sometimes that leads into invention.

And of course that’s a very exciting moment

when that happens.

But you don’t go into it, I don’t think,

looking for an invention or a new idea.

It’s like a musician that’s really skilled at a piece.

They’ll always modify them because they’re interested in it.

It’s like Bob Dylan.

He’s not gonna play Tangled Up in Blue

the same every time he does it.

He’s always gonna be sort of twisting it

into sort of a different way.

That’s a true creative.

And hopefully that’s what architects do.

Yes, you may have done it before.

We’ve certainly done roofs,

we’ve certainly done foundations and walls.

And if you’re really skilled and you really know

those issues, then you can actually,

it’s like a jazz musician.

I would argue that most jazz combos don’t play

the same piece the same every time they play it

because they’re always in conversation.

Biggest thing I took away from this house was friends.

And you always hope that’s the case with these projects

is that you remain friends.

And typically we do.

I think to be an architect is one of the biggest privileges

we can have because literally you are involved

in a community, worldwide community,

and you are in a trusted position to interpret

what the community is thinking in a sense,

and giving something back to the community.

We’re not in a lifesaving situation,

but we’re in a life-changing situation,

and what a privilege to be trusted with that agenda.

[ethereal music]

[ethereal music fading out]

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