The Cowboy

DESIGNER D’Arcy Jones Design Inc.
LOCATION In the wild, North America

This taciturn little cabin is one of four designs in a limited line of flat-pack cabins commissioned by Form & Forest, a new Canadian company. This series of simple, modern cabins synthesizes and resolves the conflict between building generically and building specifically; the designs have been conceived of with no particular site in mind, yet they can be easily fine-tuned to specific sites, geographies, orientations and climates.

Since The Cowboy’s footprint is so small, its concept is potently singular. The cabin’s parti is a literal realization of the familiar scene in many Western genre movies where a cowboy is bathing, usually in the centre of a room, keeping all friends and foes in clear sight. Similarly, this cabin’s central courtyard allows the inhabitant, from his position in the bathtub, to survey the lay of the land, inside and out. The formal “hole” in the house will contain one lone tree, an iconic reminder of nature’s quiet insistence.

By assembling the cabin’s precast and prefabricated building modules around one mature tree on the cabin’s site, the simple question of “which came first, the tree or the cabin?” becomes a dynamic presence from all interior spaces. By locating the terrace, deck and main floor level two feet above the ground, flat sites and uneven sites are both deferred to and allowed for. The cabin’s massing is either gracefully hovering above or heavily embedded into the ground, articulating the duality of temporality and permanence that defines a cabin/camp in the wilderness.

The Cowboy’s radial form provides large glass openings on three sides, with one elevation left intentionally blank. Based on the inclination of the cabin’s owner or the geography of the building site, the cabin can be assembled in a variety of orientations, to allow the sun to track through the interior spaces in a personal way. The mute back wall of the house enables the cabin to be located near other cabins or roads, with total seclusion.

GH: We had many simple Modernist houses to choose from, and this was the purest and most enjoyable of them to review. The modular kit of parts, while not new, was a noble intention. The photo with Clint Eastwood in the bathtub smoking a cigar surrounded by clean lines, glass and trees is an image I will never forget!

JPL: This beautifully presented and humorous project is greatly concerned with the issue of design integration, and aims at demonstrating the possibilities of prefabrication, possibilities that go far beyond the current marketplace’s offerings. One concern with this project however is that site issues cannot be resolved as simply as the project’s architects seem to claim. A slope with a different orientation could mean the entrance door is in the wrong place. The project may need to be more flexible.

PR: The articulation of the box is very nicely modest, tight, simple and appropriate for a little cabin in the woods, yet there’s a kind of breaking open of it. There is a resonance and interplay with the landscape and its surroundings. This kit of parts speaks of a future for prefab because it’s about component systems, not just single buildings. The components all look realistic, economical, available and sustainable. A weak point is in addressing site specificity and foundation.

Client Form & Forest
Architect Team D’Arcy Jones, Milos Begovic, Amanda Kemeny, Cedric Yu, Arya Safavi, Nick Ecob
Interiors D’Arcy Jones Design Inc. with Form & Forest
Area 658 ft2
Budget withheld
Renderings Cedric Yu
Model Amanda Kemeny