Camping as a Form of House Building

Building on the Bivouac

If you’re planning to build a house on a rural site it’s a good idea to try to camp there first, to get a sense of the site’s key features and best orientations. In my case — having just returned from an overnight stay in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara in a sleeping bag that must have been rated for indoor use only — camping only made me appreciate beds and bedrooms all the more.  But while lying awake in the cold — the moon is beautiful but really, really slow — I started to think about ways to include aspects of camping without actually leaving home. Seattle architect Tom Kundig, of the firm Olson Kundig, is especially adept at what I would call “civilized rustication,” that is, heightening an outdoor experience indoors. I have mentioned some of his projects before —


he gives new meaning to the nurture in nature. For example, consider this plywood bedroom with the round Rais wood stove: I’d call it architectural camping (no doubt the sleeping bag is rated for actual warmth). The wood grain, expanse of glass, platform bed, and stove are enough to create a feeling of being in a landscape without actually strolling into the wild (photo courtesy Or here’s a bedroom in another Kundig cabin with an outdoor


vibe in the decking and open/screened walls (photo by Tim Bies courtesy Berkeley architects Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman, of Fernau & Hartman, have often experimented with blurring the

laybourneA1-large side view

boundaries between inside and outside. One of my favorite examples is their design for a house in Colorado, as shown here. When it’s time to say goodnight,

laybourneB1-large outdoor bed

the bed, which is on rails, rolls onto the sheltered porch —  next stop, dreamland (photos courtesy the architects). If that seems a bit extreme, maybe well-proportioned, operable window walls will do the trick, as shown here in


Plan 491-10, a modern cabin by Braxton Werner and Paul Field. That would work for me! Then there is the question of bathing outdoors — always fun to think about in warmer weather. You can simply plumb the tub somewhat away

California house by bow-wow











from the cabin, as shown in this design by the innovative Japanese firm Atelier Bow-Wow (photo by Iwan Baan). Or you can blow the lid off convention as, once

Olson Kundig lift-off house

again, Tom Kundig demonstrates, in his bathing pavilion with a crank that raises

Shadowboxx-JS-010 bath hosue by Olson Kundig









the roof. It’s part drawbridge, part cabin — a wonderfully kinetic and, I would guess, invigorating bathing machine (photos by Tim Bies, courtesy Olson Kundig and on Architizer — where you can see the video of the roof opening up!).

The idea of the camp-as-house has long been a strong and suggestible architectural idea — remember those famous Adirondack lodges.  A particularly quirky early 20th century example is the house known as the Temple of the

TempleofWings_01 from

Wings in Berkeley, designed by Bernard Maybeck and A. Randolph Monroe and built in 1911 for Charles and Florence Boynton as a riff on Greco-Roman architecture (photo courtesy Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman know it well. It consists of two circular open-air pavilions defined by 34 Corinthian columns. Canvas shades provided weather protection and one presumes, a measure of privacy. Mrs. Boynton, who was a childhood friend of Isadora Duncan, taught generations of dance classes here: the outdoor life as leaps and pirouettes of the imagination. I guess a colonnade is all you really need to make the camp your home — and maybe now I can get to sleep.

For more on outdoor-oriented cabins: click here








One response to “Camping as a Form of House Building

  1. Ross anderson

    Excellent bit of bivouac journalism…Dan.

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