Mork-Ulnes Architects : Sugar Bowl is a ski resort perched atop Lake Tahoe’s Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada, in northern California USA. It sits on a gentle slope at an altitude of 6,800 feet (2,000 metres), in an area that becomes snowbound in winter and where the annual snowfall can exceed 800 inches (20 m).
The owners, a retired couple in their 70s, commissioned Mork-Ulnes Architects to design a vacation house there for their three children and partners, and seven grandchildren: three ski-loving generations whose older members have been skiing in the area since the 1940’s.
Tucked away in the mountains and nestled into a high alpine forest, the design responds to the owners’ desire for a modernist, rather secluded refuge with a constant visual reference to nature. The site is, in this sense, rather atypical of the mountain setting in that it minimizes expansive lookouts, while in fact emphasizing views towards the glade, thus allowing for the remote and sheltered retreat the clients were seeking.The owners’ Norwegian origins very much influenced the way they conceived the house. Though definitely less small and basic, its simplicity recalls the log cabins of the owners’ childhood. It is Scandinavian practicalitycombined with Northern California’s ‘cando’ spirit of innovation that makes the house unique.
Mork-Ulnes Architects has just completed a warm, contemporary retreat in a ski village perched atop Lake Tahoe’s Donner Summit, in northern California
With a contemporary nod to the traditional mountain vernacular of the Arlberg Valley in Austria, that the architects had visited on more than one occasion and that has a wonderful tradition of modern alpine architecture, the essential diagram for the house is straightforward: take the alpine chalet building type and lift it onto a concrete plinth to protect it from the snow.
Influenced by the prevailing wind-drift direction, the east-west orientation also shields the building from the street and from a popular cross-country trail to the north, while directing views to a private nearby creek and forest beyond. The plan reduces glazing along the entirety of the northern facade to a minimum, since bathrooms, closets and storage spaces are placed on that side of the house. The northern facade is thus rather private, punctured with few necessary openings but essentially turning its back to the public and minimizing heat loss. In order to maximize solar exposure, the south side is where all the main living and communal spaces, as well as decks that run across the volume’s long sides on each floor, are arranged.
The interior arrangement was established with consideration of the client’s needs.
The three adult children’s bedrooms and bathrooms (one single and one jack-and-jill), as well as the bunk bedroom for the seven children and its bathroom, are located on the second floor. The grandparents’ master bedroom and bathroom and the communal living area, where the family members spend most of their time, are on the top floor. The large space of the living room and of the dining room with its open-plan kitchen is wholly glazed toward the west and south, opening up the interior to the outdoors. In the summer, the family can enjoy a semi-external terrace, protected by the roof overhangs; in the cold winter months they can retreat to the inner living room while still capturing views of the thick canopy of evergreen trees.
The north-south angled sloped roof is designed to shed snow easily, while at the same time covering all outdoor terraced areas. The large roof overhangs prevent overheating in summer while admitting as much winter sunlight as possible.
An open staircase, flooded with sunlight coming from a dramatic skylight, connects all three levels of the house. A second skylight sits right above the dining table, creating a focal point and highlighting the sculptural angles of the dyed glasses for ceiling.
Photo Courtesy : Bruce Damonte