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Monday, March 12, 2012

House for a Musher



House for a Musher in Big Lake, Alaska by mayer sattler-smith, 2009

Big Lake is an area north of Anchorage that is, not surprisingly, marked by small lakes interspersed by meadows. It is the setting of House for a Musher, designed for, and built by, a four-time champion of the Iditarod, the famous 1,000+mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. According to architects mayer sattler-smith, this glacial moraine landscape is "an ideal place to take the dogs for a run into the untouched wilderness of interior Alaska."

Having served as a dog sitter for a pooch that loved to run on two-mile hikes in forest preserves, I can attest that the proximity of expansive nature is certainly beneficial. There is a big difference between being surrounded by trails where dogs can roam versus trails accessible by a car ride. I think that is what makes this a House for a Musher; the simple forms and materials of the "not so big house" serve the family of four, but the surrounding landscape is for the dogs.

The 2,450-sf (225-sm) house is composed in an L-shape, which creates a courtyard that "provides relief from the overwhelmingly natural setting, creating a wind sheltered space with sounds of trickling water, warmth of a fire and a scrawny black spruce tree relocated from the meadow below." The lower floor is a concrete block volume with a couple window openings, but it's the top floor that gives the house its character: Charred wood covers the elevations, which the architects admit reference wildfires and create a strong contrast to the natural environment.

This top floor turns 90 degrees from the lower volume and ends in a terrace just beyond the living room. An operable glass wall connects the two spaces and helps frame views to the north and Mt. McKinley, what locals call Denali ("the high one" in Athabaskan). Windows in other parts of the house frame different mountains, but the large opening at the end of the yellow-cedar-covered living space is what the interior is all about. Just as the location of the house acknowledges the role of nature in the lives of the dogs, the interior references a prominent natural feature and elevates the lives of its inhabitants.

Photographs are by Kevin G. Smith, courtesy mayer sattler-smith.

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