MODERN MOUNTAIN HOME AWARD
Strawn + Sierralta"s Ski On Home wins Lake Tahoe's modern residence of the year.
Go Big , Then Go Home
Redefining the people who live in glass houses
Gazing up at the glass-and-steel Squaw Valley residence at night must be what it feels like to see the bright, beaming lights of an alien spacecraft hovering above. While the huphill side of the residence burrows two stories into the mountainside, the third-story glass box above rotates from the house’s geometry 25 degrees, lines KT up in its sights, and then launches off its base via an impossible cantilever. Welcome to a serious building.
Charles Bryan, a professional BASE jumper with more than 13,000 flights under his belt, and his wife, Annica, a former member of the Swedish Skydiving Team, pushed the property six years ago, heeding the recommendation of a family friend who believes ski-in, ski-out properties are akin to lakefronts: rare and endangered. His advice was succinct: “Buy that property. Pay what they want. And don’t ever sell it.
After spending a few years in search of the right design for the sublime location, Bryan’s father connected the couple with Strawn + Sierralta, an architecture firm in his hometown of Chicago. Just from the first sketch the architect e-mailed me, that was it,” says Bryan. “It hit the mark.”
The concrete, steel and glass assemblage sitting on the property today is essentially that same sketch. Using Google Earth to “see” the site remotely, husband-and-wife team Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta designed the house to connect the active family of four directly with the outdors at every level and from every room, either literally or visually.
“We wanted the inside/outside relationship from every space,” says Sierralta. “Because the house sits in an avalanche zone, 50 percent of the house is underground so we had to counterbalance that with huge windows. We did computer modeling studies to be sure daylight was being sent as far as possible into the interior.”
Ascending the stairs to the top-floor loft, other major influences on the design are obvious. The structural demands of the location (a several hundred–pound per square foot snow load) paired with the surreal beauty of Squaw Valley below result in a wide-open space, flooded with ever-changing alpine light beneath an impressive canopy of bead-blasted steel trusses.
According to project foreman Markus Burkhart, the steel detailer was the secret to the success of the construction process.
“We had at least 5,000 bolts and well over 300 steel beams to put together,” he says. “When you have that much going on and it doesn’t fit, you’ve got problems. But our detailer nailed it.”
The three-story, L-shaped house is zoned into public and private wings, and the entire exterior is clad simply in a random pattern of COR-TEN steel, reclaimed redwood from the Reno Flume and exposed concrete. The second-floor ski room is, as Bryan says, “the center of attention, the most important room in the house.”
Located strategically between the hot tub and sauna (which will accommodate as many as 20 Mighty Mites), the room’s hydronically heated rubber floors withstand actual skiing in and out by family and friends; the space is surrounded on three sides by window walls that open completely, fully realizing the notion of bringing the outside in.
In Burkhart’s estimation, a more typical, chalet-style house would not provide the same sense of total immersion into the geography.
“Standing in the loft on a powder day, you watch KT start turning, see patrol head out and then there are people literally skiing all around the house. When you stand in that room, you are a part of it. A traditional house would never give you that same feeling.”
Text by Vangela Wightman, Photography by Diego Sierralta