Gallery: PREFAB FRIDAY: ‘Watershed’ Sustainable Writer’s Retreat


It’s easy to see how inspiration takes hold in ‘Watershed’ – a 100 square foot writer’s retreat in Oregon that is as sustainable as it is engaging. Commissioned by a well-known nature writer and designed by FLOAT architectural research and design, this small-scale project fulfills its intention of revealing the surrounding ecology while allowing observation without disturbance. Completely recyclable and constructed with an ultra-light footprint, ‘Watershed’ does well by its name.

From the studio, visitors can view riparian wetlands that are part of an ecological restoration project along Mary’s River. Underfoot, small tunnels invite the smallest wetland creatures – rare reptiles and amphibians – into study through a floor-level window. Birds and deer congregate at the studio’s front step which serves double function as a water collection basin.

‘Watershed’ is at home in the natural setting, but only as a result of careful intention. For example, the owner requested a roof that “would let her hear rain falling.” Erin Moore of FLOAT architecture answered the call adding the free flow cascade that fills the front step basin. The water reflects silhouettes of visiting woodland creatures into the structure creating not only an audible perception of rain, but a visual connection between water and nature.

Even more remarkable than its engagement with setting is the way the studio arrived. Most of the prefabricated parts were walked to the site for assembly, except the steel frame which was factory built and dropped in one piece by a track drive front loader. All connections are reversible and all components can be removed for reuse or recycling should the studio find an end to its use.

While we love the fact that the building can be easily dismantled without a trace, we can’t think of a reason to ever take it down.

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  1. materialicious » ... March 27, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    […] Watershed by FLOAT architectural research and design @ Inhabitat […]

  2. Jac March 5, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Think of it more as an extended patio, sheltered from bad weather. And it’s convenient to move it around, built with sustainable materials. I think the toilet is behind the bush. You can surely pack food and eat there, bring an icebox for drinks.

  3. Maxx February 28, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I fail to see your logic? I would never claim to be an environmentalist, and I admit I’ve never made any measurable and purposeful effort to be green… But I am curious how you figure a 100sq ft structure, even for a single person, is inefficient? (I really am curious, I’m not bashing on you in the least, btw) I’ve started research on minimalist housing and such, and it just seems like a good idea to me is all. This thing’s the size of a typical bedroom, but incorporates all necessities for the owner. I figure, even if a family of 5 decided to purchase 5 of these, and plop them down right next to each other (to be close.. but not *that* close I guess), that’s still only a 500sq ft footprint on the land – much better than any typical building standards. Seems very minimal on the materials used as well, no? While I agree that obviously a high-rise has a smaller footprint per capita, the materials used to build them would have to be substantial for support and structural purposes I’d suppose. Just curious, thanks

  4. John January 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I think, before all other arguments about use and impact on the land are discussed, we all have to agree that a 100 sq foot unit with 4 walls for one person is an extremely inefficient use of materials. small does not equal green, i think that is what rami is trying to say. that is not to say one should build a high rise for every writer to escape to, just a simple mathematic fact.

  5. Aulaire January 14, 2008 at 7:58 am


    If a writer spends long stretches of time writing in the space, staring out at the natural surroundings would be a lot more sustaining than staring into the dark gloom of a tent. (That IS practical for a writer!) And the [semi] permanence of the structure would allow the owner to leave her books and other writing equipment there in safety.

  6. Holly January 12, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    I would like to know more about the way the author/owner uses this space. Does she hike in from a main road, or does she drive in? Is the building insulated? How does she heat it? Does she sleep/cook/live there for any length of time, or is it strictly an office? And, the ever-important (to me) question … does it have a toilet (composting or other)?

    I think it’s very lovely, but I’d really like to know how it would be a practical improvement over, say, a good-sized tent.

  7. Richie January 12, 2008 at 1:36 pm
  8. Richie January 12, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Dear Rami, On p.64 of ‘The Book of Totally Useless Information’ (ISBN: 1567312667) we find that the 1990 population of 5,333,000,000 people, if evenly distributed over the 57,900,000 square miles of the Earth’s landmass… would each have 6.5 acres to dwell upon. Think about it.

    As far as nature lovers parking next to this dwelling… I imagine that the owner of the retreat owns the land immediately surrounding it ? So is that really an issue ?

    A design aspect that I think could have been better with this project… would have been the use of ‘Modular Hosuing Systems’ self gripping aluminum extrusions. That way… the entire house/retreat could have been disassembled and reused as component parts. Their use would have also avoided the necessity for trucking the structure in as the aluminum posts could have been walked in instead. See: or just

  9. Randy January 12, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Rami, lighten up a tad. For starters, no where in this posting does the word “green” show up except in your comment. Why is this person “selfish”? Simply because they chose to have a nice, small retreat built on property they own? Are you suggesting that we should all abandon the countryside and move into highrise apartments? What a silly notion. You’re drawing your personal line of acceptable ecological morality and then you’re condemning anyone that steps across your line. That seems selfish to me. Why is your line the right one? I enjoy looking at the pictures of that cabin much more than reading the overexcited babble of humorless people.

  10. Alexi January 12, 2008 at 4:58 am

    to rami

    I think you are a bit exhagerating here. I totally agree with you about what prefab houses can do in a rural landscape if it’s set on commercial pipeline. We all now of a failure of mono-functional suburban dream.

    But this case is different. The house is not promoted as a prefab unit ready to be shipped anywhere you wish.
    This house is an example of single application in the rural setting.

  11. rami January 11, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    but what if 1 million nature lovers were to park themselves in singular homes and sheds next to her? no prefab or bungalow or single family home is green, Im sorry to burst your bubble. highrise homes are far more green than any shed no matter how much its materials are recycled. This is not green, its selfish people who park themselves inside nature hoping nobody else will.

  12. Francisco Saraiva January 11, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    beautiful and ecological

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