Blog October 28, 2014

Mountain Modern Architecture

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic…that form ever follows function." – American architect, Louis Sullivan,

Prior to the 1950’s, Seattle could not boast a distinctive regional architectural language. Instead, Pacific Northwest architecture referenced bungalow and Queen Anne and other styles less popular in California and the Midwest, with frequent nods toward interpretations of European revival styles such as Tudor and Georgian.

When Northwesterners embraced modernism in the post-war era, our regional variant capitalized on natural, local materials as well as dramatic views of nature. Early Seattle-area modernist architects included Paul Hayden Kirk and Ralph Anderson and hundreds of such homes appeared in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Although embraced in major cities like Seattle, modern design was less popular in the hinterlands. Visitors to ski areas such as Snoqualmie Pass or Steven’s Pass continued to encounter more conventional and traditional homes. In snow-heavy mountainous areas, the prevailing aesthetic favored chalet designs reminiscent of the Northern European and Scandinavia regions from which many of Seattle’s residents emigrated in the 19th century. The most well known example of our tendency toward “chalet” style mountain homes may be found in Leavenworth, Washington. In 1962, the entire town was redeveloped to resemble a Bavarian village.

The Pass Life at Snoqualmie Pass

For several decades a handful of modernist architects have designed alternatives to the traditional mountain chalet. One of them – Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects – has designed more than 30 modernist homes for wilderness areas of Montana, Washington and Idaho.

More recently, Johnston has collaborated with Seattle developer – evolution projects – to design The Pass Life, a collection of 54 modern lofts as well as new retail buildings at Snoqualmie Pass, located about an hour from Seattle and Bellevue.

For The Pass Life, Johnston drew upon years of work on the Alaskan Pipeline, his licensure in arctic engineering, to create about 50 compact, sturdy and modern structures that bear little in common with the traditional “Bavarian chalet” architecture surrounding it. As a result, The Pass Life lofts have provoked more than a few head turns from locals more familiar with retro-Bavarian than Pacific Northwest modern design.

Unlike the traditional chalet homes surrounding The Pass Life, the new community features distinctive shed rooflines. Johnston explains that this novel approach allows homes to shed/retain the snow on the roof. This winter layer of snow adds significant insulation to the homes resulting in better energy efficiency. And because the roofs continue down the back of each home, during spring snow melts, this layer of moist insulation is shed off the back of the home, away from the entry protecting both people and structure.