It’s a testament to the ebbing tide of starchitecture that some of the most admired new buildings of recent memory are the ones you hardly notice at all. Consider this summer home, which won an AIA Housing Award last year: Designed by Seattle-based Heliotrope Architects, it crouches long and low along the shore of the Straight of Georgia, in Eastsound, Washington, its metal facade almost disappearing beneath a stand of Douglas firs.
The barely-there effects aren’t just visual; they extend right down to the house’s bones. The architects faced two major design constraints here: They couldn’t build directly at ground level (the site falls on a federally designated flood plain) and they couldn’t excavate for foundation footings (the grounds are archaeologically significant—an erstwhile winter camp for the Lummi Indians).
So Heliotrope poured a mat-slab foundation directly over the grass to avoid hacking deep into the earth and recessed the foundation to minimize its footprint. Then to conform with flood plain regulations, they raised the structure several feet off the ground. Heliotrope also minded a third unwritten law of the land: None of those majestic trees were cleared to make way for the house.
The AIA’s jury praised the North Beach Residence for “the lightness with which it sits on the site, the compact nature of [the] project …” It’s remarkable, in other words, for what it doesn’t do: leave a trace.