Watershed

  • A small writing studio (just 100sf) in the Willamette Valley, Oregon that the owner calls her “Watershed.” The owner is a philosophy professor and a well-known nature writer. She commissioned the studio as a retreat for herself and for visiting writer friends. Her first request was for a roof that would let her hear rain falling.
  • The designer is the owner’s daughter. Erin Moore currently teaches design studios at the University of Arizona School of Architecture. She uses her own small firm, FLOAT, and her residency at MOCA Tucson to conduct small-scale projects that engage architecture with ecology.
  • The writing studio site is a small piece of land along the Marys River about 20 minutes from the owner’s home in town. The studio sits just uphill from riparian wetlands that are part of a project to restore hydrological and ecological function to the whole Marys River watershed.
  • The writing studio is designed to reveal the ecological complexity of the site to visitors and in this way it is successful: Small tunnels under the studio bring rare reptiles and amphibians into view through the floor-level window. The water collection basin that doubles as the front step draws in birds and deer. At midday, the silhouettes of these animals project from the water onto the interior ceiling. Windows on the west and north sides frame different bird habitats—the tops of fence row trees and the patch of sky at a hilltop updraft. The roof diaphragm amplifies rain sounds and the collection basin is a measure of past rainfall.
  • Two major intentions underlie careful design detailing: 1) that the studio be able to be constructed without road access, without electricity on site, and without major excavation and 2) that the building be removable and recyclable at the end of its useful life. The way the studio is designed in three separate construction stages made it possible to shop fabricate most of it and then to walk the parts to the site for assembly. The first stage of construction was the site-poured foundation piers that are cast to spread the weight of the building on the ground and to drain water away from the steel frame. The second stage, the steel frame, was shop fabricated and dropped in a single piece onto the piers by a front loader. Stainless steel bolts connect dado-grooved cedar 2x6s to the frame and the final tongue-in-groove cedar and glass enclosure layer floats in those grooves and on rubber engine seats. There are no irreversible connections. The wood enclosure can be updated or recycled piece-by-piece as necessary. The steel frame can be removed the same way it arrived and can be reused or recycled.

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