In his 18th century Essay on Architecture, Marc-Antoine Laugier wrote “man is willing to make himself an abode which covers but not buries…Pieces of wood raised perpendicularly, give us the idea of columns. The horizontal pieces that lay upon them afford us the idea of entablatures…branches form an incline that can be covered…and now man is lodged.”
Laugier had imagined this primitive hut as the common ancestor for all great acts of building – that from which the essential model of form and structure could be derived to make shelter. The classic frontispiece engraving by Samuel Wale for the cover of Laugier’s treatise, pictorialized rough tree-trunk columns that supported a hand hewn beam-and-purlin structure of a great sheltering roof, over which mankind could be placed in the commanding center of their domain inside the wilds of the natural world. It’s rather romantic, but I like to imagine this as the Genesis moment for architecture when we discovered a way to collaborate with nature for our own good.
There is a great house on a windswept hill in Augusta County by Carter+Burton Architects and Gregg Bleam ASLA that makes me think of Laugier’s hut. No, it isn’t small or primitive but those same tree-trunk columns are set up in the exacting order of a temple and support a great sloping roof over which its inhabitants can dwell comfortably and observe the natural setting around them. Here, the house is an aperture. It commands a wide view of undulating green terrain that absorbs into a distant forest. From there looking back, it might appear as just a supporting structure for an enterprising Virginia farmer. But, that’s what makes it so great.
This is a modern house that pays homage to the rural agrarian landscape around it at a certain scale and distance, but you have to see it up close to realize the refinement of its design. Natural materials define spacious free-form living beneath that broad overhanging roof. A wall of thick stone runs alongside a wall of thin wood strips that ripple – perhaps a reference to the woven impression of the hills beyond. Walls of glass framing those distant hills are modulated by a vertical staccato of structure that gives rise to form and has reciprocity with the site itself, where a complimentary landscape design is a built series of stone terraces and low walls of cast-in-place concrete and warm weathered steel. They extend to make a base for the house and incorporate flowing water as an element of sound and reflection.
As Laugier reflected, there exists within us a seemingly innate desire to be protected from nature while living within it by refining its basic elements to suite the task of domesticity.by Josh McCullar To learn more about this house and the story behind it, pick up a print copy of March’s ABODE Magazine available in the Charlottesville area for a full feature article by Erika Howsare.