The Orcas House on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands is an intergenerational family home under construction designed by Seattle firm Allied8. The home explores how construction material use can reduce global emissions. The site was the challenge that started the project. Orcas House is located on a small lot on a ridgeline the previous owner could not figure out how to build on as it is extremely steep and half bedrock.
Allied8 Cofounder Leah Martin purchased the land and had another go at making it a buildable site. The land’s steep slope created a challenge to locate even enough level ground to support a foundation platform. The property has views to the south toward Eastsound, views to the north of the Salish Sea, Sucia Island and downtown Vancouver B.C. And so, Allied8 set themselves the challenge to create a cabin on a building site that could barely touch the ground.
As a result, Allied8 decided not to create a foundation at all. The Orcas House is anchored to the earth in six spots on a steel moment frame that hovers over the landscape on three sides. The house cantilevers over one end, preserving the moss and natural landscape beneath it and anchoring the house to the ground via steel pillars.
At least 8% of global emissions from humans come from the cement industry, which means eliminating concrete in a house’s foundation helps significantly to lower the construction carbon footprint. Allied8 decided to use steel instead of concrete on the base in order to make the home more sustainable. Designers for Orcas House also sourced 100% recycled U.S. steel to further curb carbon emissions.
Thereby, the first step of the design was to figure out where the windows should be placed to allow forest, sky and water views to be taken in all at once. The rest of the cabin design fell around the window placements.
The house was kept small at 1,300 square feet to keep the surrounding forest intact. Designers carefully had to fit in storage, mechanical rooms and extra sleep space for kids and guests. A loft space up in the trusses was used to maximize extra storage and sleep space. It’s a small home, but one that is beautiful and functional and located in a spot where most people wouldn’t even attempt to build. The house will be completed in spring 2023.
Images via Allied8 and Matias Bervejillo