Tuesday | 08 May, 2012 | 8:51 am

Shuttered in steel

By Nick Wright

Firm’s rural cabin design makes weekend getaway impervious to the elements

May 2012 - If you own a weekend getaway home—whether it’s in the woods, mountains or near water—there’s always the concern of what could happen when no one’s around. Rather than upgrade that insurance policy, look at the Delta Shelter as a reassuring example.

Built in 2005, the steel-clad cabin rises three stories near Mazama, Wash., a secluded town surrounded by the Cascades and along the Methow River in the north central part of the state. The Delta Shelter can be closed off completely by four massive 10-foot-by-18-foot steel shutters, effectively converting the cabin into an armored box. The exterior is made of 16-gauge, hot-rolled steel sheets backed by exposed steel fasteners.

Its form follows function. The cabin has a 20-foot-by-20-foot square, low-impact footprint and sits atop steel beam stilts, protecting it from the risks of the 100-year floodplain upon which it’s built.

Olson Kundig Architects, Seattle, designed Delta Shelter for the owner, who wanted a compact, easy-to-maintain and virtually indestructible weekend mountain escape. The firm incorporates metal into many of its projects. Structures like fire lookouts, mining structures and treehouses inspired the design, says Matt Anderson, director of marketing and communications for the firm. All of those aspects reflect elements of the terrain, which is full of aspens and ponderosa pines. It also is susceptible to forest fires. Steel elements, such as the shutters, are commonly used in buildings for fire resistance.


“The shutters are integral to the design,” Anderson says. “They allow our client to securely close up the cabin when he is away, and combined with the rest of the steel cladding, provide a virtually no-maintenance structure that is also fire resistant.”

To open and close the shutters, Olson Kundig included a crank mechanism integrated directly into Delta Shelter’s design. It’s an exposed part of the cabin, comprised of simple gears and pulleys. The drive shafts, u-joints, spur gears and cables that open and close the shutters are all visible. The crank, resembling a ship’s wheel, is hand-powered and can move all four shutters simultaneously. It is not a problem in the event of a power outage.

“Perhaps the one item that caught us off guard was the friction that develops within the shutter system requiring somewhat more strength to operate via the hand wheel than expected,” Anderson says, noting the shutters help modulate light and heat inside.

What would be the first floor is split between storage and an open carport. The entry is on the second floor, which is accessed via catwalk-like, grated steel stairs that wrap around two sides. Extending from the second floor, where two bedrooms are located, are cantilevered steel decks. The kitchen and living room on the floor above also feature a deck.

According to architecture website ArchDaily, most of the cabin was prefabricated offsite. This minimized disruption of the landscape and traces of construction as well as minimized waste. However, Delta Shelter doesn’t necessarily evoke “green” at first glance. Its steel exterior has a reclaimed, weathered appearance, but it’s made from all new materials.

“All the materials are left in their natural state so they are, in fact, easily recyclable and reusable,” Anderson adds. MM

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