The Cookhouse, with its accompanying Equipment Barn, is the main residence for a couple on a working cattle ranch in rural Montana. The center of ranch life, it serves to host community gatherings and also as a “bunkhouse” with overflow sleeping quarters for extended family and guests. In addition to keeping vehicles and machinery out of the weather, the Equipment Barn accommodates extensive accumulation of outdoor paraphernalia. The project represents the culmination of a fifteen-year design cycle that began with the renovation of an abandoned homestead and was followed by the addition of a number of ranch structures.
Sustainability Goals: The basic program was straightforward: design an energy-efficient house with kitchen, dining, and circulation spaces sized to accommodate large ranch events. The decision, however, to append the new structures, however, to the existing and much-loved historic compound added significantly to the design challenge. Situating the Cookhouse and Equipment Barn alongside the homestead made practical and ecological sense, but raised concerns that the new buildings might overwhelm or clash with the historic structures. The climate in south-central Montana added yet another level of challenge: severe storms, a 115-degree temperature swing, and fickle 50 to 70 mph gusting winds. Architecturally, the clients’ desire was for a house that was sympathetic to its context, sustainable, practical, and easy to heat: an anti-lodge.
Design Solutions: We started by siting the Cookhouse on the south side of, and across a small creek from, the Granary that dominates the existing compound. The creek—which had become little more than a drainage ditch—was restored and replanted with willows, dogwood and other native riparian vegetation to provide a degree of separation from the agricultural compound and road beyond. The Equipment Barn was located adjacent to the previously rehabilitated Granary and connects to the Cookhouse by a footbridge over the creek. We adopted a low, one-and-a-half story, broad-eaved, gable-roofed structure similar to local hay barns for the Cookhouse to bring down its scale and allow the Granary to remain the anchor of the compound. The Equipment Barn is a low shed off to the side of the compound. The Cookhouse’s elongated east-west axis is not only optimal for solar gain, but also ideal for views. Moreover, this orientation presents the narrow face of the building to the most intense wind and weather. Its second story pushes out from underneath the roof variedly to grab light, steal a view, or expel hot air. Both floors are organized in plan along a central circulation spine. This generous central hallway with a wood-burning stove links all interior spaces and functions not only as a social space but also as a massive air duct connecting the entire house to the thermal chimney. The thermal chimney punctures the roof at its ridge and keeps the house cool even in the extreme heat of summer, making air-conditioning unnecessary. In colder months, the house is heated with a ground source heat pump and energy-efficient wood stoves. The low ceiling and thermal chimney help maximize thermal performance. The gable roof’s substantial overhang and wrap-around porch provide ample options for working and relaxing outside protected from the elements.