Construction Materials: Spray-on concrete, glass, native stone, madrone wood sections, previously felled Douglas fir trees, colored glass and ceramics.
Owner Requirements: Buildings must be fire and waterproof; maximize views; a sense of peace and privacy should prevail
Ecological Requirements: Use what is readily available from the site
Model of the Project
General Background of the Project: Mr. Larry Medinger is a developer/contractor in Ashland, Oregon having built countless homes in the Ashland area. He had been forming some ideas in his mind for a very special house for himself. He was tired of constructing conventional homes and wanted something entirely different for himself; something sculptural, soft and very human with flowing spaces and continuity of circulation. Since he owns his own contracting company he was ready for a challenge in design and construction. He is frequently visited by his grown children and wished the house to be flexible in spatial accommodations.
Mr. Medinger saw an exhibition of our work in San Francisco and began discussing general ideas that had been congealing in his mind including the structure and shape of his new home. We then visited the site which covers 10 acres of mountainside property overlooking the Ashland, Oregon valley and surrounding mountains. The site was partially cleared and circumscribed by dense overgrowth of Madrone trees. At ground level one could not see much of the panoramic beauty of the area. However, at a height of 13 feet or more one could have an uninterrupted, sweeping view of the majestic mountains and valleys below. Thus it became necessary to let the living quarters stand off the ground. Mr. Medinger desired a design that expressed the presence of growth--like a tree growing from out of the ground. His first sketches showed a vase-like form with amoebae-shaped windows. I was personally delighted and surprised that an individual, like Larry, who has involved his life in designing and building conventional homes was so serious and enthusiastic in creating a home that would be so strikingly different than any home ever designed.
Other personal requirements began clarifying themselves; integration of human faces and limbs as ornamental themes, continuous ramps, integrated, perforated screens and free-standing sculptural forms, hand chiseled and carved stone and wood elements, glass murals and a strong sense of artistic craftsmanship throughout, multi-leveled seating, cascading pools, plenty of stone and vernacular materials.
Due to its secluded location fireproofing was critical and the house is made of spray-on concrete with a pool-fed sprinkler to insure fire preparedness. Aerodynamics was also a key factor in the design because the hillside winds affected the stability of the structure. Five, tree-like, concrete compression members hold up the weight of the house with the greenhouse walls acting as lateral stabilizing elements. An underlying hexagonal structural geometry exists to unify the support structure as a whole. The meditation tower is based upon a tripod support structure which renders it efficient in its use of materials and ability to resist wind forces from all directions. Steel pipe and solid Douglas fir trees, previously felled, are recycled to create the tower. The tower stairway is sheathed in 5/8 inch hollow-core "Polygal" translucent panels which are 200 times stronger than glass, 1/16th its weight and possesses insulative value. The tower also features a folding, hinged geodesic roof system that, when opened, allows uninterrupted 360 degree views.
Entering the property one proceeds past a grouping of large boulders with hand-carved and sculpted totems rising vertically into the sky. Generally, entrance to the immediate site is through a meandering road beginning from a low elevation and ending, near the house, at an eight foot elevation below grade. When one approaches the site their is a sense of being a part of the earth, inside the soil, rather than walking on it. This approach also creates a sense of mystery and wonder--one is kept from having a full perception of the characteristics of the house. By creating a series of gradual experiences and visual surprises the house begins to unfold before one arrives at the front entrance. One is introduced, first, to the splendors of nature from the outside.
A series of ramps and stairways carries one from ground level to the first elevated floor where space expands to encompass a living area with aspherical fireplace and multi-leveled, built-in seating and reading coves. Madrone sectioned tree slabs are embedded in the floors to create a kind of cellular growth pattern with alternating flagstone accents of tan/pink. Four feet above floor level is the dining and kitchen mezzanine. To the east is positioned the bathroom which serves the upper floor bedroom areas as well. On both levels the entire space is surrounded by continuous built-in planting. Beyond their obvious aesthetic appeal the plants act as solar heat diffusers as well as supplying fresh oxygen to the interior spaces.
A stairway continues further up into the third story (second floor) bedroom, reading room and office. The three major spaces flow together in a continuous series of functional zones surrounded by book shelves, tables, a built-in sofa and plants. A large walk-in closet serves the main bedroom and the ceiling is a dome consisting of small glass plugs positioned to duplicate the cosmological arrangement of the stars and planets of our galaxy. At night these glass plugs are lighted to create a panoramic view of the starry night sky. Larry Medinger, the owner, also owns the Night Star company which produces a tool for predicting the positions of the stars at any time and position on earth. Using his tool as a reference we duplicated the cosmological map as a feature of the bedroom dome ceiling.
The house is heated by the south-facing greenhouse with the rising hot air directed into a series of vent plenums with openings surrounding both floors near the floor surfaces. This heating system eliminates the need for mechanical and electrical power.
All-in-all the house, meditation tower and surrounding site serve as a personal expression of the values and aspirations of Mr. Medinger and fulfill the vision of an architecture that is deeply rooted in the processes of nature.