Designed as a quiet retreat amidst the unglaciated Wisconsin landscape, Bluff House rises from the gently sloping terrain of its wooded site—a humble presentation that uses simple, diagrammatic geometry and the warmth of natural materials to welcome visitors.
A former logging road carves through the rhythmic woodland of the Baraboo Bluffs providing access to the cherished site, a parcel this client dreamed of owning. The design objective was to nestle a structure within the landscape and use the twists and turns of the access sequence to reveal the home with a sense of discovery—an engaging approach that leads to an eloquently composed architectural destination.
Early studies of the region’s geology revealed the bluffs’ composition as a hard metamorphic quartzite. Resisting erosion from weatheringrivers and glaciers over the past 350 million years, the bluffs were formed. From this inspiration, Bluff House’s two stone mass walls organize and carefully situate the home within the 30-mile long bluff range. The first stone wall separates residents entering through the garage from guests entering through the solid wood entry door. The two entry sequences are rejoined at the entry foyer where the stone mass extends into the interior space. Once inside, a circulation gallery leads to the main living hall, or alternately down to the lower walk-out level. The open plan of the public volume includes kitchen, dining and living space and opens to extended views of the forested bluff the house literally and figuratively grows out of. A large cedar deck extends the living space within arm’s reach of the surrounding forest.
Growing from the staggered solid walls are lighter assemblies of cedar sided panels and glazing. The fenestration patterns offer a variety of vistas from, and often through, the house, echoing the varied sightlines that one experiences when walking through the forested bluff. The windows alternate between full height vertical apertures and horizontal clerestories, but always follow the precise 59-inch structural cadence of the buildings reclaimed timber beams.
The building’s envelope is composed of super insulated polyurethane SIP wall and roof panels and high performing low-e coated argon filled glazing. The house is oriented to utilize the foliage of the surrounding deciduous trees as a natural shading element in the warm summer months. Adding cross ventilation through carefully placed operable windows eliminates the need for air conditioning. The 1,490-sq.ft. of finished main level is heated with a hydronic radiant heat system that uses the mass of the lower level slab to maintain a comfortable environment. The heat stored in the slab naturally radiates up though perimeter slots, directing warm air past the main level glazing. It is then returned through the open stair, completing the convection cycle. Throughout the winter, outside air is filtered through a heat recovery ventilator, bringing fresh air into the home without sacrificing thermal performance.
The architecture interplays a simple palette of natural materials, including stone, wood and glass, to create depth and visual interest while infusing a sense of warmth and comfort. Intersecting volumes and layers of transparency provide a rhythm that blurs the lines between interior and exterior to leverage the beauty of the changing seasonal landscape.
This project demonstrates how architecture that respects the natural landscape can create a true sense of harmony and stand the test of time. Photos show the home upon completion in 2008-2009 as well as after ten years of existence in the bluffs.