Beyond Buildings


Cloepfil in Sun Valley: Home on the Range

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Courtesy: Allied Works Architecture


Making a home in an immense landscape is the quintessential problem of American domestic architecture. It was against what Europeans thought was an unlimited, hostile, but magnificent and magnificently valuable terrain that the Stick Style and the Shingle Style, the Prairie School Pinwheel, the Ranchburger and the Case Study home developed the particular combination of expansiveness and containment that is the essence of being at home in this country. These days, the problem of place-making concerns not just plains, forests, and mountains, but sprawl as well. How do you open yourself up to your world, which as often as not today is as much human-made as it is natural, while creating a sense of belonging? And how do you do that when home is no longer a place for generations to grow up together?

I recently had the pleasure of seeing how one architect, Brad Cloepfil, AIA, addressed these issues in a 4,500-square-foot home in Ketchum, Idaho. I played a small part in the process of the house’s realization, as I recommended him for the job ten years ago to the owner, a San Francisco–based collector for whom this is a second home. Cloepfil’s solution was to create a not just shelter or openness, but moments of enclosure that slip by each other and into the West on the edge of the suburban neighborhood that was his site. Using only minimal means, he created maximum effect.


Courtesy: Allied Works Architecture


Cloepfil’s big move was not to make any, and not to open up the house to the views the house commands to the rear. Instead, the structure is the inside of all the suburban homes that surround it to the front and sides, stripped of their unnecessary decoration and complications, to the point where it is a block strong enough to stand up against the abstract, rolling foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains that begin beyond its backyard fence.


Courtesy: Allied Works Architecture


The house consists of a series of U-shaped concrete enclosures.One defines the garage, one the kitchen, one the living room, one the master bedroom, and one a back patio and the bathroom.The shapes are not pure, and at times they erode completely to allow views, as in the horizontally oriented window in the living rooms. A small guest-room suite pops out over the top and helps answer the mountains behind. Cloepfil slots and slits the forms to give you bits of a view, without surrendering to a landscape that would overwhelms the house.


It is the careful control of the relationship between interior enclosure and controlled views that is the house’s major achievement. What makes that work is his absolute control over proportions and detailing. I could not get over a single column, one of the few freestanding structural elements, slipping by two overlapping planes at the innermost point of the living room and the center of the house to pivot the spaces around into distinct areas. In a space like this, unlike in the Museum of Arts and Design in New York or the about-to-open Clyford Still Museum in Denver, Cloepfil’s command is often not as evident as in a refined environment such as this, but here it nails the house.


Courtesy: Allied Works Architecture


So why care about this second house for a wealthy client in a ski resort? Because it could be a model for any modest suburban home. It shows how the most minimal architecture, not reduced to almost nothing, but refined to control every relation and every view, can create a sense of belonging in the American landscape, whatever that space has become today.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.