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Shadowboxx House

Shadowboxx by Olson Kundig Architects features structural elements that move in surprising but functional ways. Responding to the building’s exposed shorefront site, Kundig, FAIA, devised an elegant system of awning shutters for security and weather protection. Clad in corrugated Cor-Ten steel, the three panels lift to nest under a broad, overhanging roof. Electric motors, mounted between the rafters and driving bicycle-type chains, provide the motive force. While praising the design for its practicality, the jury also called it “a rich detail, an experiential detail.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-03-759x669 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Tim Bies

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-05-759x669 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Tim Bies

Shadowbox sits in a natural clearing; its surrounding topography provides privacy to the owner and limits views of the house from adjacent properties. The building offers a low profile to the water, while shifts in the roof allow for operable clerestory windows tucked deep in the overhangs, modulating daylight. This also enables the building to harvest prevailing breezes, naturally ventilating the interior.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-09-753x1000 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Michael Burns

The house morphs to fulfill multiple functions:

  • The main living space – the “cloud room” – is a bunkroom with six rolling beds. The mobile beds allow the room to quickly transform;
  • Deep overhangs, doors that pivot and slide, and a bathhouse roof that tips up allow the owner to control the boundaries between interior and exterior;
  • The owner can completely close up and secure the building with manually-operated sliding shutters and mechanically-operated steel awning shutters.
Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-10-759x506 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

The rough, unfinished materials at the exterior will weather with age, allowing Shadowbox to further blend with its surroundings. The raw materials carry through to the interior: reclaimed oak floorboards selectively cover the rammed-earth floor in the entry, hot-rolled steel clad walls are topped with a ceiling of reclaimed scaffold planks, and mud and tape are left visible on unpainted gypsum board.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-12-759x502 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-14-753x1000 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

Olson Kundig Architects

Shadowboxx responds to a desire to facilitate an intimate understanding of this special place and explores the tradition of gathering around a fire. Tucked between a thicket of trees and a rising bank, the house sits in a natural clearing created by the strong winds that force back the trees from the rocky bank. The building purposely confuses the traditional boundaries between a built structure and its surroundings. Its masses are modeled by winds off the water, exterior cladding is allowed to weather and rust, and shifting doors, shutters, walls and roofs constantly modulate the threshold between inside and outside.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-16-759x519 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-19-759x519 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

Inside the home, a gallery runs the length of the house with rooms spilling off of it. Two 15’ by 10’ steel clad doors slide open to reveal the main living space, named the cloud room for its ever-changing atmospherics. A glass-walled bunkroom, it contains six custom-designed rolling platforms that serve both as sofas and beds and enable the room to morph and accommodate different functions. Exterior awning shutters facing the water can be closed for protection from the elements or for security when the owner is away.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-29 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-30 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Olson Kundig Architects

A guest room sits at one end of the house, and the bathhouse at the other. The bathhouse is topped by a 16×20’ roof that opens the room like a cigar box at the push of a button. Materials with a strong tactility are used throughout the house, including rammed earth floors, reclaimed oak floorplanks, unpainted gypsum board and steel walls, corrugated steel siding and roofing, and reclaimed scaffolding planks for the ceiling.

Shadowboxx-House-By-Olson-Kundig-Architects-02-759x505 Shadowboxx House / Olson Kundig Architects

© Michael Burns

Project Data:

Project name: Shadowboxx
Location: Lopez Island, Washington, United States
Coordinates: 48.435294,-122.884934

  • Type By Characteristic: Green & Sustainable House
  • Type By Site: Island House
  • Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
  • Type By Structural: Steel House

Materials: Steel, Cor-Ten steel
Total Gross Area: 3500 sq.ft / 320 sqm
Project Year: 2009
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2010


  • 2012 – The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA Seattle Awards – Honor Awards
  • 2012 – The Builder’s Choice Awards – Design and Planning Special Focus Award – Winner
  • 2012 – Residential Architect Design (RADA) Awards – Merit Award for Architectural Detail

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Lakeside Consultants (Owner’s Representative)
Architects: Olson Kundig Architects –  159 South Jackson St., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98104, United States
Design Principal: Tom Kundig, FAIA
Project Manager: Jon Gentry, LEED AP
Project Team: Tom Kundig, FAIA, Lead Designer and Principal in Charge; Jon Gentry, LEED AP, Project Manager/Architect
Contractor: Krekow Jennings Inc.
Fabricators: Turner Exhibits
Structural Engineer: MCE Structural Consultants, Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: CPI Plumbing & Heating
Electrical Engineer: Bird Electric
Interior Design: Viekman
Metal Fabricators: Intent LLC

  • Turner Exhibits (bathhouse roof, operable deck, TV gizmo, awning shutters on south side of house); Bird Electric (electrical engineering); CPI Plumbing & Heating (mechanical engineering); BABA (antique wood flooring); 12th Avenue Iron (custom steel cabinet, robe hooks, toilet paper supports, sink supports); Intent (fireplace, rolling beds, master bed, sliding walls); She-metal (metal finishing); David (steel fabrication);VIEKMAN (custom kitchen stool design); DW Designs & Dylan Andersen (custom kitchen stool fabrication);Village Interiors (fabrication of antique mosquito netting and window coverings); Kathleen Mullaney (rolling bed decorative pillow fabrication using antique Indonesian textiles and antique French linen)

Text Description: © Courtesy of Olson Kundig Architects, 2009honorawards.aiaseattle
Images: © Olson Kundig Architects, Michael Burns, Tim Bies, Kevin Scott, Benjamin Benschneider


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