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Exploiting the sublime surroundings of the Idaho wilds, Chicken Point Cabin is an object lesson in architectural excellence, blending beautiful interiors with the great outdoors.

There's a quintessential image of the rural log cabin. Imagine a place to retreat, seeking sanctuary from the strains of modern life and being at one with nature. However, Chicken Point Cabin could not be further from the traditional image of the pastoral retreat, inspired by America's pioneering past. Looking out across Idaho's Lake xx, Jeff and Amy Larsen's family vacation home has become as much a local landmark as its nearby namesake. When the couple bought the plot, their directive to architect Tom Kundig of the Seattle-based practice Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen was simple: a house as open to the water as possible. The solution? A magnificent pivoting picture window, 20 feet tall by 30 feet wide, that literally opens up the living area to the waterfront, through which one could imagine a ship sailing in to dock. "Little house, big window," as Kundig fondly refers to the magnificent concrete cube. Addressing the challenge of operating the six-ton steel-and-glass window, Kundig's initial proposal was a counterbalance device, weighed down with sandbags, or a large power-generated mechanical system based on the premise of a garage door. However, inspired by the challenge to create a mechanism as unique as the structure, the architect finally fell upon the idea of the "gizmo," a hand-cranked mechanical operating system that employs the principle of counterbalance through moveable gears, allowing the window to open with ease. Rather than concealing its innovative workings, each large cog and lever is proudly revealed, adding to the artistry of the space.

Kundig's concept is simple: a sturdy box made from concrete and plywood, with a four-foot diameter steel fireplace, masterfully crafted from oil pipe; a remnant from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. One of the most significant features of the home's structure, the pipe also functions as a structural post for the steel-framed building, as well as supporting the fireman's ladder leading to the children's sleeping alcove above the vertiginous lounge area.

Carefully considering the cabin's surrounding environment, Kundig mirrors the beauty of the landscape. Unfinished materials, such as the metal coating of the imposing 19-foot metal door – scaled to the tall pines that stand guard around the family outpost – age and adapt with the passing of the seasons. The towering entrance provides access during the winter months, when the lakeside entrance remains closed to maintain the heat. The tall, hovering wooden staircase that greets guests upon entry cuts a dramatic figure of perfect symmetry. The warm tones of xx(wood)?xx also offset the cool industrial edge of exposed concrete walls, creating a welcoming ambience. The narrow, vertiginous ascent leads up to a plywood loft housed within the double height space, which accommodates the master bedroom and two(?) additional bedrooms sandbagged onto either side of the cube, each boasting incredible views of the lake.

In 2004, the architects won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) award, not only for the architectural skill the project displays, but for its sheer ingenuity. As the jury noted, "This 'little machine of a house' makes big moves with a small palette. It begins with a framed view and an idea, and holds onto them without compromise, handling entries and access rigorously and yet with interesting complexity and texture. The architect has drawn on the picturesque, e.g. the tilt-up door, but without falling into nostalgia. We see here an order of perfect relationships, but with humor - a truly outstanding achievement."

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