HomeResidential ArchitectureHousesWawona House / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

Wawona House / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

Wawona House / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

Project: Wawona House
Architecture: Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects
Builder: Zumwalt Construction, Inc.
Location: Wawona, California, United States
Area: 2871 ft2
Year: 2023
Photo Credits: Andrew Pogue Photography
Text by Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

Located in a historic town in the middle of Yosemite National Park, the Wawona House is a study in contrasts.

While the compact, modern form of the building may stand out amongst the mosaic of the town’s structures (Wawona is home to a mixture of typologies – family homes, park service housing, a small school, a library, and a historic hotel), the building’s material palette is wholly of the landscape, allowing the house to feel at ease amongst its wooded environment and the rustic setting of a small town within a National Park.

Built for a couple with grown children and their families, the house is both a quiet retreat to the wilderness and a place for holiday gatherings. The property having been in the family for decades, the owner spent her childhood summers there, working seasonally in the park and staying in the small cabin that previously inhabited the site. A desire for a larger space to host their annual Thanksgiving celebrations is what spurred the drive to build a new house. In contrast with the cramped dining space of the previous cabin, the new kitchen and dining space is open to the double-height living room and its sweeping views of the site, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Wawona Dome beyond, allowing the family to come together and fully enjoy the beauty of the landscape that surrounds them.

Building a house in a National Park is a rare situation that was not without some unique challenges. The lot is surrounded by parcels owned by the National Park and while this gives literal new meaning to the idea of “having the park in your own backyard,” the remoteness of the site proved difficult for construction access. Trying to maximize potential of the comparatively small lot led to the design team conceiving of the building as a tight form with a large carve-out. The living room opens on two sides to the relatively narrow deck, a critical design move that allows both the outdoor and indoor spaces to feel much larger than they seem on paper.

living room

Dark vertical wood siding was chosen as the primary exterior cladding to “camouflage” the building and allow it to blend it into the environment as much as possible. Architectural details throughout the house riff on this theme: the pickets of the wraparound deck are the same material as the siding, but their spacing makes the siding seem to dissolve into the air, creating a balance between enclosure and openness to views. The juxtaposition between the light and dark siding recalls the variegation of the surrounding terrain and anchors the building on its site.

The main floor stair treads are fashioned from thick pieces of reclaimed fir and give the impression of a floating staircase; however, they are cleverly supported by a series of overlapping slats that echo the verticality of the exterior siding and the surrounding trees, providing a focal point near the entry. A landing library at the top of the stairs has a window seat that doubles as an additional sleeping area when needed; telescoping doors allow the library to be closed off from the rest of the house to create a private space. The large window looks out over the forest and evokes the feeling of being inside of a treehouse.

The floor plan was laid out to capture significant views in all directions, giving each room a different experience of the site. The primary bedroom was strategically located on the second floor to capture a stunning view of the Wawona Dome; a window inside the second floor shower gives a peek-a-boo view of the woods. From every angle, the Wawona House points inhabitants to reflect on the spectacular surroundings of Yosemite. Providing spaces to gather and spaces to retreat, the house welcomes visitors for all purposes, whether for a quiet weekend in nature or a lively family gathering.

living room

living room

living room

Wawona House / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

kitchen

Yosemite Cabin / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

bedroom

terrace, Wawona House

Wawona House / Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

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