Delta Shelter


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Winter Retreat

Thanks to its amazing sliding panels, this American hideaway can change from a sun-filled space to a snug den at the first sign of snow. By Lucie Young.

‘There is a magic that happens when you can move things in a building,’ says Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig about his ‘Delta Shelter’, a modern cabin in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State, three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Seattle. The house has four large side panels that close simultaneously to keep the interior snug in winter. In summer, the panels open with a hand crank to give the place a treehouse feel.

Tom, a partner at Olsen Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, is renowned for integrating movement into his buildings. For this project he took inspiration from primitive forms of housing. ‘This is not a static building, but something you can change like a piece of clothing,’ he explains. ‘You can open and close the space like our ancestors did with tents.’ There is also an Asian influence at work. ‘Japanese houses are like little platforms in the landscape,’ says Tom ‘They invite you to go outside or to invite the outside back in. And of course, the sliding doors here have an obvious reference to shoji screens’.

The house, which is built on a flood plane (hence the name ‘Delta Shelter’), is propped up on stilts to ensure it stays above water level. The interior has an upside-down layout, with the living room and kitchen on the top floor- affording the best view through the trees – and two bedrooms downstairs.

We love it not just for its innovations, but for reminding us that your home should connect with its surroundings. As Tom says: ‘People in America tend to build huge weekend homes that gobble up all the landscape they are supposed to be visiting. You need very little to enjoy what’s around you.’

Olsen Sundberg Kundig Allen (

© 2009