Ephemeral Edge is a weekend retreat and retirement home located three hours north of New York City. The remarkable site lies at the convergence of two diverse conditions: a forested hillside and a constructed pond, both overlooking a panoramic vista in the distance.
The first impression of the constructed pond was unsettling. The sloping hillside had been disrupted by the large amount of cut and fill required to create the spring fed pond. At the same time, the tall spindly trees at the edge of the clearing were also strange. They were sun starved trees with leaves only at the top that one would generally find in the middle of the forest, not those of the edge.
In time, it became clear that seeing this strangeness as the source of potential beauty was the way to respond. Ephemeral Edge is formed by these four site conditions: the curving edge of the pond, the torqued banks necessary to construct the pond, the spindly edge of the forest, and the quiet beauty of the distant view.
The project began with an intuition to site the house along the curving edge of the pond. As the heart of the site, the pond reflects all the ephemeral aspects of living here: the daily changes of light across the surface of the pond, and the daily and seasonal fluctuations of temperature. Aligning the edge of the house to the edge of the pond brought all these qualities inside the house. Twisting the curvature of the line of the deck in one direction and the line of the rook in the other direction sets up a subtle constant fluctuation in the space that mirrored the constant movement of the water.
The sweep of the pond's edge combines with a section that changes from shared, open, and public spaces at the entry of the house to intimate, private, and enclosed spaces at the far ends of the house. This continuously transforming section organizes the use of the house with a changing quality of interior space. The shared spaces project outward to the deck and the view while the master bedroom at the other end tucks back in a more intimate relationship to the landscape beyond. Constructing this variable section with a ruled surface geometry results in torqued form that feels natural with the torqued banks of the pond.
The character of the delicate forest edge is brought inside the house to become the structure. Three planes of steel reinforcing bars are the primary support for the cantilevered roof surface. They emerge from the concrete foundation walls and become a carefully choreographed sequence of slender steel trunks and branches that allow the house to float lightly above the surface of the water. At the ceiling they support steel channels that cantilever outward to support the perimeter of the roof. By organizing them on a radial grid, the skylights at the top of each of the rebar cages act like sundials that quietly mark the passage of the sun over the course of the day. Sunlight filters through the rebar, filling the house with the dynamic presence of the light and shadow of the forest.
The pond and the distant view are always present in the house. As one shifts through the plan, one is constantly uncovering different aspects of each. It is at the entry to the house, where the dining space aligns with the distant view and the entire space can be completely opened to the immediacy of the pond joins the house to the distant view that this connection is most complete. Doors open all the way through the house joining the table and the dinner party to a completely unusual landscape while occupying a completely intimate space. This is the space of Ephemeral Edge.
Gross Floor Area (mq)185
Design teamKathryn Dean, Charles Wolf, Christopher Kroner, Zachary Rousou
Photo CreditsPaul Warchol Photography
Kathryn Dean and her New York City-based office, Dean/Wolf Architects, has a reputation for providing unique transformational designs, turning architectural constraints into powerful generators of form. The office uses architectural design to reinforce the identities of individuals and institutions -- supporting a psychologically rich dialogue between buildings, their users, and the environments they inhabit. Dean/Wolf expresses these visceral collective desires through dynamic memorable spaces that construct the understandings and realms that we share. Through collaborations with clients, agencies, consultants, and builders, Dean/Wolf has completed residential and institutional projects at a variety of scales. The projects are distinguished by a highly thought-provoking manipulation of light and space, precisely activated with sensual materials such as concrete, steel, maple, and glass to dissolve boundaries of interior and exterior space.