Washington Aggregates & Concrete Association
Excellence in Concrete Construction
SNOQUALMIE RIVER RESIDENCE
1996

Snoqualmie River Residence

This 10,000 square foot wood, masonry and concrete residential project is located in a spectacular Northwest setting surrounded by the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, second growth forest and the Snoqualmie River. This project celebrates the attitude that concrete, if used appropriately with attention to detail, can be a beautiful finish material. The fluid, plastic nature of concrete freed the designer to create complex, sculptural forms. Its malicable surfaces made it possible to craft beautiful textures and finishes. Unique concrete applications grew out of the homeowner’s desire that the house provide a dramatic setting for entertainment and living, that embodied their sense of fun and whimsy throughout. The designer, presented with this challenge, took what could have been a very utilitarian bare bones basement and transformed it into a unique architectural experience. The program is a journey that begins in the main hall of the house, travels through a series of evocative concrete rooms and eventually re-emerges at a waterfall and hot tub in the forest. It is the way in which the architect and contractor interpreted this program in the design and execution that makes this project an example of an outstanding use of ready mix concrete.

The Wine Cellar and Curving Stair: The journey begins with a sinuous curving stair that leads one down into the wine cellar. The elegance of this freestanding stair exemplifies the possibilities of concrete as a material well suited to the construction of complex sculptural forms. It was also cost effective, as the same stair in wood was to cost ten times that of poured in place concrete. The wine cellar, while providing a substructure for the stair hall above, is anything but utilitarian. A dramatic groin vaulted ceiling, recalls the ambiance of the Romanesque vaulted cellars of Europe. The room is elegant and refined, with carefully crafted surfaces that alternate between rough and smooth, ancient and modern. The lighting dramatizes the beauty of the concrete surfaces. The construction process of the concrete groin vault was surprisingly similar to that which would have been used for a stone or brick vault in Roman times. Virtually a timber mould of the whole inside of the space was built, beginning with a single barrel vault and overframing the intersecting vault. Arched top trusses and shoring below were used to support the tremendous weight of the concrete. A skin of concentric 4” wide boards was then applied to the trusses with care taken that each of the boards met precisely on the sharp curved edges or “groins” of the two intersecting vaults. The concrete was poured filling up the cavities with a consistent 6” thickness, quickly and economically creating a dramatic three dimensional form. As the skin of the board forms were peeled away, the beauty of their pattern became the permanent texture of the ceiling and revealed the craftsmanship of its builders. The personal relies punctuating the ceiling were gathered by the owner from their family homestead, attached to the reinforcing and permanently embedded in the concrete.

The Indian Tunnel: Continuing the journey, beyond the wine cellar you enter what has become known as the Indian Tunnel. This 100 foot long continuous barrel vaulted passageway with light washed niches for the display of artwork celebrates the sublime aesthetic of concrete. The shaft has strong horizontal emphasis created by the textures of the board formed ceiling. The long narrow boards draw the eye down the length of the tunnel. There is a sense that this arched top form was not built, but rather drilled out of the earth, an illusion further reinforced by the use of a buff color additive that simulates the natural color of the earth on the site. A light sandblasting was used to further the illusion of age. Each time the tunnel changes direction, a complex groin vault adorns the ceiling and adds visual interest to the journey.

Concrete Doors: In keeping with the concept that the tunnel was a continuous shaft through the earth, the architect suggested disguising the doors into the tunnel by building them out of the actual boards used to form the concrete walls of the shaft. The concept that these doors were secrete passages appealed to the owners sense of fun and whimsy. The contractor realized this illusion could be taken a step further if the doors were actually made of concrete. He built the forms for the doors by carefully lining up the boards so, once in place the board forms on the doors would align with the joints of the formwork on the walls. The concrete was poured into boxes on the floor and then hoisted into place. Set on pivot hinges and controlled by electric latch release, their ease of operating is amazing. At the touch of a light switch and the push of a finger, the doors open—a concrete version of the revolving bookcase.

Reflecting Pool: As you leave the tunnel and enter the forest, there is a view of the reflecting pool as it reaches out towards the Snoqualmie River. This poured in place concrete pool is 80’ long, dead level with sloped sides that terminate in a knife edge. The sharpness of this edge was achieved by using a ¾” wood cove at the top of the formwork. The lamp black color combined with the flat still water held at the very top edge of the pool create a perfect glass mirror that reflects the beauty and solitude of the Northwest forest.

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