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Box House

Maya Lin Studio

Inspired by Asian puzzle toys, Maya Lin crafts the kinetic Box House, opening it quietly to high peaks in the Colorado Rockies

By Sarah Amelar
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  Box House
  Photo © Paul Warchol
  Maya Lin Studio
  Maya Lin, Designer
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Asian puzzle boxes with secret sliding and pivoting panels first inspired Maya Lin’s architecture in the Norton Apartment in New York [RECORD, September 1999, page 132]. There, multiple planes folded open or closed, transforming the interior into a pied à terre for one, a home for a family with children, or a space for an elegant soirée. More recently, when Lin received a commission for a house in the Colorado Rockies, the idea of a box toy sparked her imagination once again, but this time, with a full building, she decided to take the notion further.

“At first glance, my architecture appears reserved—unlike my sculptural pieces, which are more gestural and clearly about the landscape—but the Box House may be deceptively simple,” suggests Lin. “As you gradually discover, it’s also quite playful.”

This tendency toward outward reserve was hardly a problem for the Colorado clients, a couple in their 50s who were already knowledgeable patrons of architecture. Because their primary home, in another state, acts as a magnet for architecture aficionados, they envisioned their mountain retreat as a private place, where they could simply enjoy hiking and bird-watching. So they carefully sited Box House on hundreds of acres, which they generously deeded to a conservation easement. This arrangement will preserve—and protect in perpetuity—much of the wild beauty bordering an increasingly popular ski area. Besides Lin’s Box House, the only other structure that can ever rise on the land is a future caretaker’s cottage.

The architect then positioned the house so it can’t be spotted from any other property. Instead of perching the building majestically on the highest point, she placed it on a lower mesa (9,921 feet high), ringed by mountains, affording panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. A private road (an old rancher’s route, already in place) leads the way, with 2 miles of switchbacks, up to the house. “The idea was to create a modest and discreet structure—and then reduce it even further, minimizing your first perception of it,” says Lin. Initially, you see only the narrow end of the building’s long, rectangular form. Then, as you draw closer, the full composition begins to emerge: two teak-clad boxes, totaling 6,760 square feet on two stories, joined by a second-floor deck. One volume contains the kitchen and main living/dining area beneath the master bedroom and study; the other houses the garage, at grade, rising to the home gym and sole guest room.

Well crafted inside and out, the nesting volumes utter not so much as a creak. The house maintains a quiet presence among the aspens, but if you peel back its layers and open its boxes to the sun’s rays, the whole ensemble becomes animated—and really begins to speak.

Want the full story? Read the entire article in our April 2006 issue.
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