Drawing Board

Four-Poster House

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THE DRAWING BOARD-August 2011

A space-frame design for a lakeside camp inspired by a four-poster bed

Anne Griswold Tyng, FAIA, was an associate of Louis I. Kahn for thirty years, working with Kahn on buildings that were significant for their bold and innovative use of geometry: the Yale Art Gallery, several private homes, and a proposal for Philadelphia City Tower. At the same time, Tyng was also exploring geometric principles on her own. She was inspired equally by the five Platonic solids and by the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller. As a result of her independent work, Tyng became the first architect to frame a traditional peaked-roof house with fully triangulated three-dimensional truss when she designed an addition to her parents’ nineteenth-century farmhouse in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1953. While spending vacations in this house, Tyng began to dream of someday building her own summer retreat. She made some rough sketches of a pyramidal house, but shelved the idea when her parents sold the property.

In 1967 Tyng first visited Acadia National Park and fell under the spell of Mount Desert Island. But her Maine history goes back much further, to her maternal great-grandfather, who was a teacher on Mount Desert Island. Tyng spent more than 35 summers returning to a camp on Long Pond. In this setting her idea of building her own vacation home revived and then crystallized into the design she now calls “Four-Poster House.”

Tyng has strived to make the Four-Poster a natural outgrowth of its sloping wooded site. It leaves the surrounding ecology intact because it is linked to the ground only at its four central concrete foundation piers; the rest is cantilevered above ground level. Tyng also uses indigenous materials—logs and cedar shakes—the same materials that gave such eloquent means of expression to two venerable Maine traditions, the rustic and shingle styles. But the Four-Poster is no mere composite of historical motifs. On the contrary, it becomes an extension of the colors, textures, and raw materials of its natural surroundings in an extraordinary new way.

The house’s structure is generated from four central columns, each made of a cluster of four tree trunks. These columns rise up through the house as far as they are needed, until a single trunk of each cluster remains at the top to form the posts of a generously proportioned four-poster bed under the eaves. All the ceiling/floor beams are threaded through the vertical clusters of trunks, or post members, and are cantilevered out to support the living platforms at each level.

The idea of the tree house is given ultimate expression at the top level. This floor consists of a single large master bedroom cozily tucked under the hipped roof and dominated by the built-in four-poster bed at its center. From the four-poster bed one can enjoy views in all directions through dormer-bay windows. One is literally in the treetops, looking down on the surrounding lake and woods.

Four models (in the permanent collection of the architectural archives of the University of Pennsylvania) exist, showing four stages of construction of the Four-Poster House. These models were first exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and are in the current exhibition at the Graham Foundation in Chicago.

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