Sitting in the office at our initial meeting, my first impression of the clients was sheer curiosity. She is an artist who appreciates textures and craft. He is a consultant in water conservation space and practices creative writing. They spoke of a special piece of a rural land with unparalleled views and very uncommon neighbors.
Their program requirements were very straight forward - an off-grid one bedroom base camp retreat that would ultimately become their future residence. They requested a master plan to include room for a guest or two in the future while still maintaining privacy. Oh, and they needed a Wizards Tower…my mind was spinning, what is a Wizards Tower and how does it function? It didn’t even matter because at this moment I knew these were unique clients and this would be a special project.
It turns out that very unique neighbors reside in a cemetery adjacent to the site and they have been there for quite some time. They are very quiet neighbors however; their presence is always felt. As a designer, this contextual relationship fueled the entire conversation and provoked the following question:
What does it mean to build next to a cemetery?
The search for the answer allowed us to probe our clients obsessively. How do you feel about this place next door? Is it calming or agitating? Is it beautiful or horrifying? Is it sacred? - Definitely sacred. ‘So then,’ we asked, ‘what is the special nature of this place and the mutual relationship created by proximity?’
'Do you realize you could be enjoying coffee or a cocktail outside and there may be people mourning 100 feet away?' I asked our client. ‘How does that sit with you? Do you embrace these periodic events, or do you try to buffer yourselves from these interactions?’ These questions would shape our approach to the design process.
The Wizards’ Tower was a much simpler answer. This was an observation tower and deck that allowed my client to enjoy the unobstructed beauty of the 360 degree views. We discussed how to make a humble tower that would provide the platform for observation without becoming an icon or eyesore for the valley at large. These are hallowed grounds set within the majesty of nature - we need to tread lightly and be respectful of our neighbors both present and past.