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Oasis on the water

What if the living space of the future was on water? Located in a community of houseboats on Portage Bay, just south of the University of Washington, Water Cabin is a small cabin in an urban setting by Olson Kundig Studio. Low over the water and small in stature, the house creates a platform made to take advantage of the surrounding waterway and create a very distinctive living experience. A galvanised steel structure supports generous roof planes and large areas of glazing that open up to spectacular 180 degree views that create a fine line between indoor and outdoor spaces. The floor plan is organised on two levels to maximise connections with the surrounding marine environment.

On the lower level, an open living space combines the functions of dining, kitchen and office, with a hide-a-bed for guests. A glass corner and large sliding doors connect this space to the outdoor patios with rich Ipe wood flooring, where large roof overhangs support year-round usability. The upper level master suite frames the perspective view of the water and creates a welcoming belvedere, set back from the footprint of the house, for a sense of refuge. A rooftop terrace and richly planted container garden continue the interior/exterior porosity established at ground level, extending the bedroom to the exterior. The materiality of Water Cabin draws inspiration from a hut. The exterior cladding of lightly stained knotty western red cedar stands the test of time with minimal maintenance. Durable, low-maintenance metal elements such as galvanised steel and flame-sprayed zinc refer to the demanding marine environment.

These metals will complement the colour of the cladding as it silvers with age, as well as the changing blues and greys of the surrounding bay. Wood continues to heavily feature throughout the interior of the house, with warm oak floors and woodwork balanced by cooler black and silver metals. Russian birch plywood ceilings extend to the exterior soffits, further breaking down the barriers between indoor and outdoor spaces. Knotty wood wall finishes in the main stairwell and master suite similarly weave the exterior materials into the interior of the house. The informal and harmonious environment creates a sense of tranquillity that makes the house an oasis within a vibrant floating community. 

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Project: Water Cabin
Architect: Olson Kundig
Year: 2020
Photo: Aaron Leitz