House of Contrasts Unites with Nature

Each year, thousands of tourists take thousands of pictures of the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. The Tetons — arguably the most photographed mountain range in the country, if not the world — make it easy for even the worst of photographers to take stunning pictures that capture their abundant beauty. For one family that lives just outside Grand Teton National Park, these picturesque mountains are within sight from every room in its home, thanks to an architect’s careful planning.

The magic of the Teton range is its lack of foothills, which provides a breathtaking contrast where the flat, horizontal valley to the east meets the jagged profile of the nation’s youngest mountains. It is this horizontal line created where the valley meets the mountains that provides inspiration for the custom home on the south end of the park that sits 500 ft. above the valley floor.

Jackson, Wyo.

Industry memberships: AIA, NCARB
Annual number of projects: 15
Residential new construction: 65 percent

Horizontal lines are seen in practically every element of the home: the kitchen cabinet hardware; where concrete meets concrete; along the ceiling’s wood slats; in the railings; in the book shelves; the wood beams; the steps leading down to the back yard; the roofline; the long, narrow nature of the home itself; and in many other places.

“The house has a gravity and weight to it that is characteristic of what might be considered traditional buildings in this region,” says Stephen Dynia, AIA, president, Stephen Dynia Architects in Jackson, Wyo. “But it is also a house that responds to the site and its environmental conditions as well as the owner’s needs, in an expression that is current with the earth it is built on. It doesn’t pander to style; it is the result of all these considerations.”

The gently curving roofline matches that of the hillside on which the home sits. Dynia made sure the home does not dominate its site or the national park’s environment, both of which lack many buildings, he says. The roof peaks with powered clerestory windows along the entire length of the house to provide both natural light and ventilation. The wall opposite the clerestory consists of a row of sliding glass panels where air enters the home.

Air enters the low side of the house, rises and escapes out the clerestory windows for natural ventilation. No mechanized cooling system exists, but both forced-air and hydronic radiant heating systems keep the home warm. “This house is green to its core. It is sited to take advantage of the sun as well as natural ventilation patterns, and all the concrete throughout the house holds in the day’s heat and releases it during the evening,” he says. The thermal properties of the concrete — warmed up as the sunlight penetrates the large number of windows — offset the use of so much glass in a cold climate.

Concrete, Wood, Steel and Glass

A system of concrete piers supports the weight of the house. The piers are combined with eight trusses spaced 16 ft. apart which allows the home’s skin to hang separately from the main structure. This permits the placement of glass anywhere in the home without worrying about structural support, Dynia says.

“The tension rods throughout the home express tension, whereas the heavier elements such as concrete express compression, creating a balance between pull and push. And the wood slats on the ceiling in the public space serve an acoustical function to counteract the sound qualities of a large concrete room,” he points out.

“Everything you see revealed structurally is part of the building’s system; it serves a purpose. The house is made of seven cells lined up like bread slices. And the rooms are lined up so each gets a view of the mountain range. There is no room without that mountain view,” he explains.

A long gallery extends the entire length of the house. Half the home is private and the other is public, with children’s spaces downstairs. “This is a house you slide into from one end. The driveway is aligned with the peak of Grand Teton Mountain so as you descend down the driveway while approaching the home the mountain is framed by the two houses on the property,” Dynia says, referring to the main home and the 800-sq.-ft. guest house.

Nice Complement

The success of the Teton home is partly attributed to Dynia’s flexibility when design doesn’t quite work out as planned, says Kurt Wimberg, owner, Kurt Wimberg Construction, also in Jackson, who built the home. “Working with Steve was fantastic because he was concerned about the concept but not concerned about micro details. When we had problems where design did not exactly meet reality, he was willing to work with us to solve them. That’s ideal because I’ve worked with other architects where they wouldn’t budge, and that was not good,” Wimberg says.

“The other part of that is I don’t try to make things too simple, meaning, I don’t always search for the easiest way to do something. There are other contractors out there that meet a challenge with only solution A. I always provide solutions A through D when possible,” Wimberg continues. “I’m aware of the architect’s design goals. I’ll do what I can to help him get there. We’re on the same team.”

The home’s design calls for plenty of steel, which caused some of the problems Wimberg refers to. “Like with the steel trim, Steve would say, ‘I’m fine with using another piece of steel covering this part, or changing how this roller door will roll along this part, or changing the shape of this piece of metal.’ He was great to work with.”

Working closely with architects to solve design and construction problems keeps Wimberg interested in his career, he says.

“That’s what’s fun, and it’s fun when you have a team that can work together. It’s not fun when you’re not a team and you’re in constant stress that design details won’t work exactly as planned. It’s rewarding when you can walk away from a project and know you made it work.”

Wimberg enjoys building contemporary homes because they’re challenging, he says. “I really like the look of contemporary homes but I don’t know if I could live in them. However, I understand where the architect is coming from, and I don’t judge the design. I just try to get in the architect’s head and understand it so I can build it right.”