The design process and off-site construction of Alchemy’s Squam Lake Residence
Internationally recognized for its weeHouseÂ® concept, Alchemy has proven since 1992 that even the smallest of homes can have a huge impact. weeHouseÂ®, a term registered by Alchemy in 2002, was conceived as a modular design system that emphasizes quality over quantity, and has been recognized by a âless is moreâ philosophy. The Minnesota-based company, led by Geoffrey Warner FAIA, designs the structures to be modern and stylish, paying particular attention to the use of expressive local materials that are respectful of the environment.
The Squam Lake House in New Hampshire, while technically not a weeHouse, was required to strictly adhere to the floor space and volume of a dilapidated cabin 15 ‘from the shore. Manufactured primarily off-site by Bensonwood using 18-inch thick pre-glazed wall panels and white oak wood framing, the panels were erected in just 4 days.
Eric Winter, AIA and architect at Alchemy, shared valuable information on the project design process.
Design Considerations for the Alchemy Lakeside Home
âThe house is metaphorically a box of trees,â says Winter. âWith an interior entirely in oak adorned with black steel jewelry, it embraces the spirit of the densely wooded site. Trees bring light and define spaces, circulation and storage. The house was 3D modeled in Vectorworks by Alchemy, allowing the tree shapes to be CNC manufactured in collaboration with Digifabshop.
The adjacent boathouse is a fallen tree with the spirit of a wooden boat. The two buildings were designed separately but covered with the same weathered wood rainscreen.
Alchemy uses BIM at every stage of their workflow, as it helps them connect complex geometry to related parameters. Winter describes this particular project as âextremely 3D modeling intensive,â which BIM in Vectorworks helps streamline due to the ability to add data to any type of geometry.
Local Inspiration & Natural Materials
The alchemy was inspired by both the landscape and the history of the region.
âThe project is located by a lake and is surrounded by trees,â Winter said. âWe were inspired by the idea of ââtrees, the history of local lumber and canoe building. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s on the placid shores of Squam Lake, where On the golden pond was filmed. ”
The house and boathouse use the same white oak, selected for its beauty and natural durability in interior and exterior applications.
Use BIM to bring 3D models to life
Frankly, the shape of the boathouse is so unusual that it is hard to imagine accurately modeling and installing it. But Alchemy used several features of Vectorworks design software to bring their vision to life.
âIn this design, there were actually very few traditional ‘building elements’ like walls or roof facades,â said Winter. âWe modeled and detailed almost everything ourselves. ”
The boathouse was modeled by creating a semi-curved path translated into a conceptually simple line geometry, bent 30Âº in plane and 30Âº vertically. The architects extruded and arranged shapes along this path.
“The boathouse is like a single log or a single branch,” said Winter, “with ribs that provide a reinforced structure with longitudinal purlins and a skin of plywood.”
Alchemy used Vectorworks’ algorithm-assisted design tool, Marionette, to design the fabricated tree elements that intersect in the main building.
The network of connected nodes shown above is the Marionette Alchemy script used to procedurally generate the complex geometry of trees. The picture shows that they started with a simple shape modeled with the Extrude Along Path and Add Solids commands. After the Marionette script was applied, the shape transformed to represent the structural system needed to build the original shape. These trees will cross the structure and the envelope of the house.
Complex geometry diagram for coordination and offsite fabrication
Alchemy’s detailed diagrams of their unique geometry serve as a communication tool as the design progresses through prefabrication and construction. With the ability to export DWG files from Vectorworks, Alchemy can provide builders with the information they need to produce their own designs for CNC routing or laser cutting.
âTypically the manufacturer will share an image export with the base dimensions of the DWG file to verify that everything is correct,â Winter said. âWe rely on metal fabrication for many custom items such as handrails, steps, awnings and lights. The ability to craft really cool items that fit our clients’ budgets makes it extremely important that we work with manufacturers in a very practical way.
With the prefabrication process currently underway, construction has already started experimenting with the bark and frame details – both in oak – to fully realize this exceptional large-scale design.
How the weeHouse system influenced this design
âAs products and systems spread over time, the weeHouse seeks to maximize durability, design efficiency and durability at an affordable price, while achieving designed and meaningful architecture,â explained Winter .
So while the Squam Lake residence does not technically match the weeHouse system, many of the same design principles influenced the construction – considerations such as durability, efficiency, innovation, and craftsmanship.