McMulleri Summer House Haliburtori

Carmen and Elin Cornell

Subject | "Organic architecture" strives for natural designs and for unity between buildings and their surroundings, in accordance with the teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright. Time and time again, this claim has spurred architects on in the search for new definitions. Yet one will scarcely find a more rigorous and dedicated approach to this style than the McMullen summer-house situated amid the forests of northern Ontario on the northern bank of Kashagawigamog Lake.

Even its evolution was a process of organic growth. The whole approach was influenced by the fact that funds were very limited but not - according to the architects - the love of adventure! Friends and the whole family were involved in the planning and building work. This also gave rise to the "organic" functional design. Thirty-two standard plywood sheets (8x4 feet) from a do-it-yourself store served as the modules for the floor layout; these were used to set out the building on the site - completely without any fixed grid system - around the trees, exploiting the views and taking into account the planned functions of the accommodation. The architects compare the layout to falling leaves forming a pattern on the ground. And hence the design was to mirror the process of organic growth as well.

Tree tunks, firmly rooted in the ground, support parts of the building above. Roofs overlap like leaves. Structural elements are simply piled on top of each other and yet clearly define their own position in each case. In nature, rocks represent fixed points. In a similar fashion, the plywood sheets are the "rocks" of this house, their positions determining the final shape of the building. Of course, the building of such a structure was made easier by the fact that it is an unheat-ed summer-house, merely a retreat from the urban daily grind and the demands of everyday life. The amateur construction team built the house over three successive summers.


McMullen Summer-House, Kashagawigamog Lake, Haliburton, Ontario, Canada


David and Chris McMullen Architect

Carmen and Elin Corneil, Toronto and Trontheim

The Construction Team Odd Overdahl, Janne Corneil Assistants

Espen Hagen, Natalka Lubiv, Rolf Siefert, August Schmidt, Gavin Leeb, Rick McKenzie, Rob Cadeau, Louis Franceschetti, Robert Phillip, Marit Corneil, Jennifer McMullen

Date of Completion 1990

Design | The building is sited across the slope which drops down to the lake and is accessed from the north through the forest. There are two entrances, one leading to the central living area and the other to the kitchen. The living area with its

6 | Foundation construction: i Retaining pole and timber column. 2 Floor panel and concrete screed with services. 3 Ventilated insulation layer with damp-proof membrane underneath.

4 Compacted sand between two 50 x 250 mm sole plates. 5 Foamed-glass insulation, 40 mm. 6 Concrete raft foundation. 7 Undisturbed ground.

7 | Detail of glazing.

A 9.5 mm steel bar supports 50 x 50 mm horizontal battens for the panes of glass which are held in place by means of bevelled 25 x 50 mm beading on the outside. The vertical butt joints are sealed with silicone.

8 | Isometric view of two-storey prefabricated elements. On the right, a single-storey extension with monopitch rafters.

9 | Section through two-storey element, scale approx. 1:40. Shown here are the 150 x 50 mm columns with the 32 mm diameter retaining poles and the 2440 x 1220 mm standard floor panel of the upper floor. The inclined roof element is placed over the main framework. The detail shows the welded anchor plates of the retaining poles as well as the screwed joint with the timber columns.

fireplace is linked to the kitchen via a dining area and to the bedrooms above by means of a staircase. This staircase leads to a landing with the bathroom, containing toilet and shower, on one side, and from where passages and bridges lead off towards the individual sleeping compartments. These compartments are positioned to suit the views, which were considered from the outset. Back on the landing you can reach the lookout above by way of a ship's ladder, or descend another staircase to reach the ground-level patio in front of the living area. There is a separate bedroom for guests at the western end of the house adjacent the main entrance.

Structure | As there were a number of trees close to the house and as the subsoil was full of large boulders, the builders decided in favour of a raft foundation. The site was first levelled by introducing a layer of sand on which the building was set out. The trenches for the footings were excavated down to the level of the existing subsoil and then the whole area of the building was covered with 38 mm foamed-glass insulation. The layout was then set out again on this insulation and the main sole plates (two 250 x 50 mm members, impregnated), including the foundation anchors, carefully positioned. The trenches for the footings were then filled with concrete up to the level of the top of the insulation.

Next, the retaining poles for the building's columns were bolted onto the sides of the main sole plates and screwed on from above. The 3 mm fixing plates had been welded onto the 32 mm diameter retaining poles prior to galvanizing. Finally, the sole plates were braced with cross-members and the bays filled to the top with sand; a damp-proof membrane was then laid across the whole construction. More foamed-glass insulation was laid on top of this but here in strips with ventilation gaps between. The prepainted floor panels were then laid in their predetermined layout between the retaining poles. These panels are the basic modules and consist of 2440 x 1220 x 19 mm standard plywood sheets (8x4 feet) with ioo x 50 mm framing and transverse members glued on at 600 mm centres.

The structural system of the house resembles the American "balloon frame" system, i.e. the framework columns continue past the floors and support these. In this building, with its highly eccentric layout, the columns for the single-storey sections are located according to the positions of the ground-floor panels, whereas those for the two-storey sections are aligned with the upper-floor panels. The floor panels are always supported by four 150 x 50 mm columns which are fixed with four screws to the pre-installed retaining poles. The roof construction is noteworthy: elements comprising the roof surface itself and the side walls joined to it at right-angles, are placed over the main frame construction at an angle to suit the roof pitch - with the construction left exposed externally! The walls consist of 100 x 50 mm framing clad externally with 19 mm plywood. The roof itself is formed by a loadbearing panel, ioo x 50 mm battens fitted to this with 40 mm thermal insulation laid between, and, finally, profiled steel sheeting. The load-bearing roof panel is a 19 mm plywood sheet with 100 x 50 mm timber stiffeners glued-nailed to the underside at 600 mm centres.

The two-storey frameworks were assembled on site on the ground before being lifted into position and fixed to the retaining poles. All transitions and gussets which ensue as a result of the geometry are filled in, glazed or provided with insect screens on site. Windows are timber-framed, single-glazed.

After the electrics and plumbing were installed in the ground floor, the intervening spaces between the floor panels were filled with a concrete screed.

10 | The foundation during construction. Visible are the compound sole plates with their stiffening members and bolted retaining poles. The bays have not yet been filled with sand.

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