The best cabins have an special aura – separate from civilization without roughing it, and immersed in nature without drowning therein. Cabins that hit this precise balance must be designed and built in harmony with their surroundings. Sneeoosh Cabin is such a place, built on a wooded shoreline in the beautiful fjords of Puget Sound in Washington state. Located within the Snohomish Indian Reservation, this modern cabin combines a glass-enclosed great room with stunning views of the woods, the waters, and the Olympic mountains in the distance with a sleeping loft whose comfort, quiet, and darkness insure a night of the soundest sleep.

The designers of Sneeoosh Cabin, Zeroplus Architects, wanted to build a retreat from the hectic pace of modern life, while thoroughly integrating the cabin with the features of the building site. The undisturbed site was heavily wooded, with mature Douglas fir and cedar trees as much as three feet (91 cm) in diameter, thriving in a dense underbrush comprising a good selection of salal bushes. Zeroplus made the decision that the natural growth on the site would remain as undisturbed as possible.

Next, the architects came up with a set of design strategies that would produce a finished result that would not only integrate softly with the building site, but would also induce a lightness of spirit for the cabin's inhabitants.

For example, the cabin rests on a foundation of eight concrete disks which raise the house up off the ground, leaving the plants and wildlife untouched. Properly placed, these disks do not disturb the trees, and even their capillary-like roots and those of the ground cover remain active under the top layer of humus.

An interior of the roof during construction of Sneeoosh Cabin (Photo: Zeroplus Architects)

In order to use a minimalist foundation, the cabin itself must be designed to have as little weight as is consistent with the overall plans for the site. As the uppermost structural element, the roof usually determines how strong (read heavy) the entire cabin must be. Accordingly, the roof was constructed from structurally insulated panels (SIP). These consist of an insulating layer of rigid expanded polystyrene foam sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board. Despite their simple and light structure, SIPs share the same structural properties as an I-beam or I-column, and provide a structurally sound roof for about 40 percent of the weight of a standard shingled roof.

The roof – indeed, the entire house – is designed to use tensegrity (tensional integrity) so that the finished structure gains strength from its own weight. A light weight structural system supports (largely glass) walls and the roof. The system is prefabricated of steel and relies on tension to provide sufficient strength while greatly reducing the weight of the structural members.

Puget Sound lies in an area of temperate marine climate, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. There are fewer than 60 days of mostly sunny weather, so overheating by direct sunlight is not a problem, especially considering the cabin's wooded location.

However, the diurnal cycle brings many days for which the daytime high temperature is at least 15ºF (3.3ºC) degrees warmer than the nighttime low. With an average summer high temperature of about 76ºF (24.4ºC) and winter lows averaging in the mid-30s F (2-4ºC), this argues for splitting the cabin into two distinct temperature zones, one with a good deal of glass looking outward to join with the woods and water during the day, and a sleeping zone that is heavily insulated, turns inward, and is dark and quiet, reminiscent of a closed and secure tent.

The driveway and parking for the cabin are located on a previously disturbed area separated from the house on the other side of the building site. A small path was created to connect the parking area and the house. In line with the building principles, part of the path is an elevated ramp which retains even more undisturbed area.

The exact location of Sneeoosh Cabin has not been revealed to preserve the privacy of the owners. We can only hope they are enjoying their marvelous cabin to the fullest! The short video below shows a 360-degree view of the cabin's structure and layout.

Oh, yes – the word "Sneeoosh." It is the name of a Swinomish tribe, whose ancestral dwellings are nearby.

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