From the Dolomites to Dawson Lake, the sustainable architecture of Peter Pichler becomes even more international, visionary and full of meanings, to approach the challenges of climate change while minimizing environmental impact. His Tree Houses, which will be completed at the start of the summer in a private green landscape of slightly over 40 hectares in West Virginia, embody a value that goes beyond the concept of typologies designed with zero-kilometer materials and technologies, inspired by a marvelous wild natural setting.
The eight dwellings in local wood are suspended in the trees of a large forest of maples, poplars and oaks by a lake, and will soon form a plastic-free settlement to create a Research Center on sustainability, where scholars and researchers at the most advanced universities around the world will be welcomed for encounters, talks and conferences, in a program still being outlined at this time.
With other sustainable constructions, including a nutrition and agriculture facility, a wellness center, and a space for culture, visual and performing arts, the whole Dawson Lake complex will become a ‘laboratory’ of design regeneration on a large scale, to improve the health and solidity of the local ecosystem. There is also the idea of using a large zone for the installation of photovoltaic systems and windmills to produce clean energy.
Automobiles will remain outside the property and internal movements will be entrusted only to electric cars and bicycles available at the entrance, for further reduction of CO2 emissions. In this small, self-sufficient smart city, nothing else will be required. But how did the project get started? “Last year we took part in an invitational competition for the design of a hotel in Alto Adige, and the guidelines included a request for treehouses,” says Peter Pichler, the architect from Bolzano who before opening his own practice in 2015 in Milan with Silvana Ordinas trained in the studios of Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Delugan Meissl.
“We won the competition, and only afterwards, looking back on the materials, did we realize that the Tree Houses were more interesting than the hotel itself we had designed. We decided to post them on our social network accounts. We were contacted by various potential clients, and one of them was our American client in this project, a lover of art and music, who invited us to visit the property in West Virginia.”
The work is still in progress. The designers are still deciding what type of local wood to use for the constructions at Dawson Lake; for the moment, they know it will be pale on the inside, with dark external shingles to blend into the landscape. With respect to the first concept developed for the competition in the Dolomites, the geometry of the volumes has remained practically the same.
The image of the Tree Houses is set by a pitched roof and two monolithic tetrahedra joined at the base, rooted like trees in the terrain: the lower solid has a structural role, while the upper one contains the residential functions, created in a rhomboid layout, while a footbridge functions as the connection between the house and the access drive.
The program of the housing units, however, has been modified, varying from 35 to 45 square meters: two completely glazed fronts eliminate the perception of barriers to the natural habitat; the spaces, now larger and more open, on two levels connected by an internal staircase placed along the opaque facades, include the kitchen and living area on the lower level, with the bedroom zone above them, with separate bathrooms. The furnishings are mostly custom pieces, relying on natural fabrics in harmony with the sensation of wellness provided by the constant presence of wood.
Each unit will have thermal insulation, equipped with a geothermal heat pump (but there is also the idea of using the water from the lake) and a technical lighting system for energy savings using sensors for automatic control. “Considering the fact that there are just 8 units, a second step will probably be necessary, designing a small hotel to boost hospitality capacity,” Pichler explains.
“In the architectural formulation, it will continue the pursuit of harmony with the context, in which to have an experience of total immersion. People arriving at Dawson Lake want to get away from the urban dimension, to take beautiful walks, to ride bicycles, to meet artists and musicians, relaxing in a natural setting of slower rhythms, away from the normal schemes of hotel living.
One idea that is developing is to rent the Tree Houses to creative talents with different backgrounds as studios, generating a hotbed of ideas and inspirations drawn from the surrounding environment. We like to think that Dawson Lake will be the first luxury resort designed according to the guidelines of the Living Building Challenge, in terms of zero-impact energy.”
It is good to know that something made for the few can provide wellbeing for the many; because this model, in the end, can be replicated in other contexts and other habitat dimensions.
Project Peter Pichler Architecture - Principals Peter Pichler, Silvana Ordinas - Design team Daniele Colombati, Gianluigi D´Aloisio, Giovanni Paterlini, Marco Capriani