Photographer Scot Zimmerman comes to Bluff!

Thank you Scot!!

This June Scot Zimmerman donated his time to Design Build Bluff and over the course of a few days photographed our most recent projects including Westwater, Nakai, Little Water and Shadeworks.  Enjoy his beautiful images!


The ever changing spandrel

Finishing up our house and placing the spandrel panels on our facade


Lunar Eclipse :: SKOW Update


As we left for the building site on Friday morning with hands and feet cold and warming to cups of coffee and hot chocolate the earth passed between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow across the complete lunar sphere and marking a milestone for the cosmos and our project.   Eight months ago we had no idea what to expect much less what our home would even look like.  But with a little blood, and a lot of sweat we managed to accomplish something that we can all be proud of.  We can walk away knowing that there will always be this place that together we joined our minds, bodies, and souls together to create a place for living, learning, and teaching.



Put simply, avoiding uplift.

In preparation to put our Corten corrugated roof on, I’ve been working on the beam and columns that carry it floating over the front patio space. We were inspired by Rick Joy’s use of corrugated metal roofing and their floating, sleek-as-a-knife appearance. But unfortunately for us architects (or fortunately, depending on what floats your boat), the simplest looking details are often the most complicated. And it’s not quite as easy as shoving the material off the edge. Even without snow loads (for all intents and purposes, our climate has none) the beam to carry the roofing (or, more accurately, hold down the roof from high wind loads) gets to be pretty sizeable. “To carry sheet metal!?” you say? It actually has more to do with the beam carrying itself than it does anything else. The further your span, the more deflection the beam has, so in order to carry itself, it has to get beefy. And beefy ours got. For a 12′-6″ span, our engineer advised 2 back to back 4x4x1/4″ steel angles. We went with a 4x4x5/16″ because they were cheaper (albeit heavier). At 8.2 lbs per foot, the dbl beam weighs in at a whopping 776 lbs (I hope no one on Skow is reading this. They’ve been throwing beams like these around with ease).

Column connection at beam

Column bases from old to new.

The first day we were on site back in the warmer days of July, we spotted some 4″ round steel pipe laying around at Lorraine’s house that we were originally going to use for the columns, but it turned out to be too short (oh, to return to that fateful day when, on a whim, we decided to raise the roof a foot and a half. Sigh). Luckily for us, Lorraine had also been holding on to some old, rusty 3″ steel pipe, which I was hesitant to use until I heard that they had history. Up until the last decade or so, the Nakai family was known for having an apple orchard on their property (an orchard that Lorraine’s mother amazingly took care of well into her 80′s). Anyway, these pipes were pulled from the Nakai well when Lorraine was very young, and the family used them to channel water from the well to the trees. It’s about as much sentimental value as a rusty steel pipe can hold, I would think.


Aaaand unfortunately, Bluff doesn’t staff a full-time structural welder, so both teams have had to be creative with their steel. We are using a similar detail to that of the Skow columns in which the column is notched and the beam sits inside of it. This is the structural system. But just for good measure (in classic Bluff style) we bolted the column to the beam and then did a full length weld along the seam. Overkill? Maybe (ok, definitely). But it actually turned out to work better than anyone could have expected. You see, our column footings weren’t exactly level, which means that the columns needed to get level after they were raised. But you wouldn’t be able to raise the columns unconnected to their metal bases, so I bolted them, raised them, and they had the perfect amount of wiggle room to level them. Perfecto! (if anyone asks, this was my intention all along).

Column bolts before hydrochloric acid.

After (rusty bolts, mm matchy)


After the columns were level, we braced them with 2x6s and then the beam went in pretty easily (easily with 6 people lifting at any rate). With the beam in place, the whole system was bolted, tightened, re-leveled and then welded (thank you, Andrew).


After that, the roof was easy.

Columns and roof installed.

Knife edge of our roof.

West side with roof on. Excuse our mess.

The past week

They make our Job easier.

She doesn't like me.

Taking full advantage of the pop out

He lives on the roof

Arguably the coolest dog in Bluff

skow progress

it seems as though we have been making too much progress to post any photos….  i know this is crazy talk, but its starting to resemble a house!  with our east wall and ceiling sheathing on, the house is more reminiscent of what it will look like when enclosed.  our straw bale plaster should begin by the end of this week, the rocket stove is well on its way, the cladding production is began today, bathroom framing walls are up, and the datum is almost complete.  the cedar and steel details are looking amazing– more photos to come soon!  though our complex structure had us moving slowly initially, we are picking up the pace.  since the construction of 3 of our walls includes interior and exterior finishes– straw bale/plaster and glazing– we will hopefully make huge progress this session (and we promise to tell you about it!)

Progress! – Lorraine’s House

el sombrero straw bale work begins

The straw bale component of the home (the bedrooms) has finally been taking shape. None of the straw bale walls are load-bearing which greatly simplifies the process. To see the floor plan which identifies these thick walls in relation to the overall layout, click here. The past session was spent framing the curb rails (sills) and box beams at all vertical corners, window and door jambs as well as stacking bales. Diverting from the traditional top plate, which can also be framed similarly to the vertical box beams, we have chosen to incorporate the 7′-0″ high band of cedar, aka ‘the datum’, as our top plate framing. This installation will happen in the beginning of the next session so it will be absent from the following photos. 

curb rail and vertical box beam framing

The corner box beams assist with keeping walls plumb during stacking and allow for a clean 90 degree corner plaster detail.

curb rail framing detail with pea gravel at void

The curb rails (sills) raise the bales off of the floor surface to prevent moisture from entering at the base. We have chosen a pea gravel infill between the curb rails since it was readily available and should assist with any drainage. Rigid insulation is also commonly used to fill this void.

first course of bales at north wall

In order to provide nailers for our j-bead plaster stop detail, blocking was installed between each bale of the first course at all walls. For a detail at the base of the exterior straw bale wall, click here

felt paper moisture protection at exterior walls

Due to the potential for snow build-up, felt paper was installed continuous from the top of the first course down to, and over, the top of the foundation wall.

detail of window buck framing (sill seen at top of photo) and felt paper at first course

a very happy and victorious looking brett

completed south and east walls (and a chilly-looking brett)

Prior to beginning plaster work in the next session a series of steps need to happen including felt paper and metal lath at all exposed wood to be plastered, j-bead plaster stop at the top and bottom of the walls and of course, the top plate/datum installation which will tie the whole system together. Check back for the next session’s progress!

sombrero update

a brief update on the skow house before we leave for our break..

we have made a LOT of progress this session!  our trusses are all up and on layout, and at this point are mostly sheathed on top and bottom.  the straw bale portion of the house is well on its way, and we are gearing up to get it plastered next session.  atsushi and hiroko, two DBB staff members, are the masters at plaster mix, so we are picking their brains on our recipe before they leave for tokyo next week (congrats on the wedding!!!) we have been working hard on getting our deck framing in so we can begin laying the decking soon as well.  and the most exciting news of all– we took down our temporary wall!  though our bracing is still in place to hold the structure until a few more pieces are in, the main temporary wall is down so we can get a better feel for how it will all look.  and we are quite happy with it!!

far out fun!

we all had the amazing opportunity to go on a field trip with our neighbor, vaughn hadenfeldt, of far out expeditions.  vaughn is incredibly knowledgeable about this area– with a background in anthropology and archaeology, the information he shared about ruins and rock art was seemingly endless.

we went on a short hike with him in comb ridge– just a few miles outside bluff.  we first stopped at the wolfman panel, a well-known panel of rock art in very good condition.  this particular panel was made by the basketmakers– an early native american culture dating from ~1500bc to ~500bc.





after this, he took us on another short hike to monarch cave.  we picked his brain about the area, and squeezed as much information as we could about the ruins, culture, plants, etc in the short time we had with him.  it was an afternoon packed full of information!  it gave us a great view into the culture that existed here before it was a settled area, and what traditions may have carried into the native american culture today. vaughn also offered some great insight into the architecture of the area– how these structures may have been built, how they may have worked with the environment, why they chose these sites, etc.


building on the reservation is a great experience and immersion into a different culture, but this field trip gave us a deeper understanding of the area we are in, which we are very lucky to have experienced!