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Originally published Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Treading Lightly: Art meets nature in huts on wheels

THIS JUST IN: Acclaimed architect Tom Kundig designs a mobile-home park. A what? you might be thinking. A tornado magnet? True. But this is the...

Honors abound

Rolling Huts: 2009 — Residential Architect Design Awards, Grand Award. 2008 — Architectural Record, Record House. 2007 — Seattle AIA Merit Award.

Delta Shelter: 2008 — National American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture. 2007 — Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award; National AIA Housing Committee Award; Northwest & Pacific Region AIA Honor Award. 2006 — Seattle AIA Honor Award; Architectural Record, Record House; Residential Architect Design Awards, Grand Award.

To experience the Rolling Huts go to www.rollinghuts.comfor reservations.

Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects:

THIS JUST IN: Acclaimed architect Tom Kundig designs a mobile-home park.

A what? you might be thinking. A tornado magnet?

True. But this is the coolest mobile-home park ever: six futuristic structures in steel, concrete, glass and ply. Industrial cabinry in rusted metal, and glass-triangle clerestories and decks penned with ranch fencing.

All on steel wheels.

No wind will ever budge this art gallery of architecture.

Our story begins with a private country getaway place. Seattle dentist Dr. Michal Friedrich had 46 meandering acres along the Methow River. He needed a place to stay there. In 2005 Kundig, of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, designed for him a vertical chapel of a cabin called the Delta Shelter. It stands on tiptoes above the floodplain, 36 steps from earth to sky, 350 square feet on two floors of living space.

"When I get back from there I feel richer for the experience," Friedrich says.

"The beauty of working with Tom is he's so flexible and brave. It's one of those relationships where you throw out these crazy ideas, and you look at each other and say, "Hey, that's not a bad idea!"

Awards soon followed.

Now Friedrich's plans for his Methow meadow continue in the mobile-home park — six compact boxes built in 2008 meant for an intimate visit with nature. They are available for rent as Wesola Polana ("Happy Valley" in Polish, his native tongue) and now Friedrich is bottling the water there, calling it Methow Spring.

"Those little huts are basically for people who want to get married," Friedrich says. "They go there and stay there for a week, and after staying in 193 feet, if they still want to get married . . . only kidding!"

Friedrich, founder of the Seattle Polish Film Festival and the Seattle International Documentary Film Festival, craves both art and nature. In Wesola Polana he's got both.

The Rolling Huts are exactly as the name implies. The hut, a subset of the cabin.

"I don't think I've done a structure that's smaller that you can live in than these," Kundig says. "But I've done a number at 300, 400, 500 square feet.

"When you're in a good cabin you can feel where you are in the larger landscape. If, in fact, you're in a beautiful landscape, like Michal's, the smaller the building the more you are in that landscape."

While the Delta Shelter cranes its neck to survey all around it, the huts are low and long. But they are not meant to be taken too seriously: impossible with that toothy grin of a door in sunny-side-up yellow.

"Exactly," Kundig says. "Even the Delta Shelter is supposed to make you smile and feel like it is light in this big landscape."

Each single-room hut is monastic spare in sheets of plywood. A kitchenette wall separates sleeping and living quarters. A RAIS wood-burning fireplace is parked in the far corner, in front of a glass wall, the great outdoors beyond. The flat roof, extended over both shelter and deck, is popped up like a VW camper van. It appears suspended midair, hovering over clerestory glass. The slant of it, like the jaunty tip of a cap, compels the gaze toward meadow and mountain.

And the wheels? Kundig's solution, Friedrich's inspiration.

"I have kind of a history of things moving and changing," says Kundig, an architect given to gizmos but who admits this is his first building on wheels.

"Basically, they're RVs on wheels. Mobile homes have a much lower threshold for permitting, which I think is kind of odd. But these kinds of things are relatively light on the landscape. They don't destroy it by having a foundation."

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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