Architecture that speaks for itself

The highway turns into a circular driveway. The driveway turns to a path. The path leads to and then through this home on Granite Lake. Upon approach, the home appears first as a blue wideboard wall, obscuring the water, and then becomes a gateway inviting visitors out onto a long deck that leads to a short pier. The effect is like an invitation to come and dive right into the experience of lakeside living.

This lake house in the southwestern corner of the state was originally a humbler cabin-style dwelling, but it already possessed a commanding view of the water. Two cabin walls that faced the lake consisted of windows which let in generous drafts of light and could be tightened up to hold solar heat on cooler days. The new owners wanted to enlarge the structure without losing the welcoming charm of a lakeside cabin.

Now a second story of upstairs bedrooms spans across the portal to the lake and connects the cabin to a large screened porch filled with rugged, but comfortable furnishings. The lake-facing side of the porch is fully screened, inviting in the last rays of afternoon sun over the water, but a wind-breaking curved wall partially cloaks the northern landward side and adds to the sense of motion toward the lake.

This house is, in effect, a statement. The owners, avid scullers, love the lake and the recreation that it affords. They wanted their home to speak to that love, so they sought an architectural firm which could understand and interpret just what they wanted their home to say. They picked Daniel V. Scully Architects of Keene.

Dan Scully says that all architects speak in three dimensions, and the best ones are multilingual — able to communicate in both modern and classical tongues. But it can take a long time to speak a complete sentence, he notes. Sometimes years go by before Scully and the colleagues of his Keene-based architectural firm get the pleasure of hearing clients reply to their expressions of wood, stone, metal and glass — particularly when they are working on community projects like the revitalization work on the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough or the award-winning design for the Waypoint Center in Bellow Falls, Vermont.

“It is an incredible responsibility to build things that are designed to last and function forever,” he notes. “But there’s that one moment of satisfaction when you see it on the landscape and you know you got it right — when you see it in context.”

Context is a critical component of all buildings, he says, and that’s more than just the realtor’s mantra, “location, location, location.” The main context, he says, is the life that the building is designed to contain, the hopes and concerns of the occupants. When this outdoor-oriented family approached his firm about their lake house, he knew that the context had to extend beyond the walls and setting.
“Architects try to create a buildable order out of a client’s program, site and budget and, in the process, do a lot more than just keep the rain out.” Scully notes. “We try to create a unifying vision for the whole thing, taking into account the functional aspects and adding additional thoughts that make it a larger idea. In this lake house, the program was fitting the building to the landscape. The larger idea was really celebrating summer living. This meant using natural finish materials and a design that allows residents to connect with and be a part of the outside.”

Scully says that his most important task is to really listen to his client, to learn what’s important to them. This isn’t just a professional courtesy but a necessity in a culture so filled with visual references and collective images that elicit different memories in different people. “It’s those memories we’re trying to evoke in architecture,” says Scully. “Then it all comes down to the nature of the materials chosen.” That’s why he chose brass screening for the airy lake house porch — as a reminder of the character and textures of a previous century. “Metal screen provides a feeling that you couldn’t get with fiberglass screening,” he explains.

Inside, the lake house spaces and furnishings are camplike and accommodating, designed to invite guests to recline, and even nap. The house is a place to recharge, refresh, and then re-enter the summer world of the lake, but it’s never static. In Scully’s words, the house is a not just a destination, but also a vehicle.

The aspect of motion is also enhanced by the architect’s use of materials. Parallel molding strips over cedar plywood create a dynamic feel inside, while the exterior siding is classic camp-style wideboard that is live-edged, that is, sawn with its bark still on to create strong, wavy horizontal lines.

This sense of motion in architecture is practically second nature to Scully, who built his own eccentric home/compound in Dublin as a shrine to speed and automotive design. It’s a collection of classical shingle-style buildings around a symbolic raceway where car parts adorn buildings, and some buildings emulate cars. Once again, the house is a statement, this time one about our country. “In Europe, it’s the places that are the destinations,” Scully says. “But in America, it’s the highways. The movement is the destination.”

To Scully every building is an object in motion, like a vehicle on a highway. “The highway is what connects us,” says Scully, whether it’s an invitation to the water’s edge or a public space that provides a connection to a larger world. Though buildings come and go, he notes, “The highway never ends.” NH

Dan Scully: Relishing the role of a “community architect”

Although he enjoys helping individuals realize their own visions for homes and living spaces, Dan Scully is particularly pleased to help build public spaces that convey and enshrine the stories of a community. He cites his work on the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center, where he used a railroad and bridge motif to capture the glory of the old train station on the route from Montreal to Boston. He was commissioned to renovate an old Woolworth Building in Keene “at a time when the town needed to be knitted together.” He says the result was a building that “looks like it has been there forever, but with a modern touch.” NH

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