Thursday, December 13, 2007

Loblolly House

I just learned that KieranTimberlake Associates are preparing to publish a new book about their Loblolly House. It's set to come out in June from Princeton Architectural Press.

I visited Loblolly this summer for a piece I was writing for Chesapeake Life Magazine. The home sits on Taylor's Island, a small barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. You arrive at the property by driving down a long, shaded gravel path lined with ferns and canopied by Loblolly pines, for which the house was named. Suddenly you hit a clearing with a beautiful view of the water beyond. And there it is:

The house hovers above ground on poles that Stephen Kieran installed at odd angles to mimic the natural growth of the pine trees. It is situated a bit like a duck blind, with the back clad in birch veneer and the front opening to the water with floor to ceiling windows.

When I arrived, I was met by Kieran and his wife, Barbara, who gave me a tour. They'd been spending the morning outside observing the trees. Kieran has spent a lot of time thinking about Loblolly pines, which forest the five acres that they own on the water. Walking out toward the shore of the creek, Kieran pointed to telltale holes in the bark of a dying tree. “Pine weevils,” he told me. “The tree guy came out this morning and said we need to remove these.” Kieran saw that several of the struggling pines house birds’ nests with eggs. “We’re going to wait until they hatch.” Then he said he would plant new trees for every one he has to remove.

Kieran and his partner James Timberlake have long pushed for sustainable building practices. They published a book several years ago about the architecture and construction business titled Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies are Poised to Transform Building Construction. In it, they discuss the way we put together buildings and propose moving from a traditional, stick-built method to a more integrated component approach. “Think of it like car assembly,” Kieran told me, where the process is less linear and more integrated. Cars are a kit of parts assembled in a much more efficient way than a home, he said.

That's how he designed Loblolly, as a kit of parts that could literally bolt together like a piece of IKEA furniture. It was designed to be prefabricated off site using natural, non toxic materials and then assembled onsite using simple tools like ratchet wrenches.

Kieran also thought about the home's eventual destruction. “The LEED system doesn’t give you any credits for end of life,” Kieran said. "Most buildings are pulverized,” causing a harmful environmental impact.

Because Loblolly is bolted together, it can be disassembled, allowing the components to be reused or recycled. “Not that we anticipate that happening anytime soon,” he added.

The 2200 square-foot home is a spectacularly functional, aesthetically pleasing three-bedroom home seemingly perched amidst the pines it was named for. The exterior cladding was designed to mimic the look of the nearby pine forest.

The living room, with floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to the water beyond and allow for natural ventilation.

The Master Bedroom on the second level also has doors that open to the elements. The bamboo flooring was stained a custom green with a vegetable-based dye.