Shiftspace Design

Shiftspace Design

Philadelphia, PA


Architect's Writing Cabin and Creekside Retreat

Situated along a winding creek, this abandoned pump house was transformed into a writing cabin and waterway retreat. The original pump house — built in the early 1900’s — with its gabled roof felt misplaced among the surrounding mid-century houses. When tasked with repairing the dilapidated structure, the owners and design team decided to retain and reuse the massive stone ruins but reinterpret the structure. The result is a modern cube-like building that maximizes the small footprint and complements the surrounding architecture.

The diminutive building is composed of a folded aluminum facade set atop the existing stone base. The wave-like facade draws inspiration from the metal folds of the waterwheel that was once housed within the structure. Light and shadow play with the undulating pleats in a way that mimics the motion of the water passing below. The dynamic form blends in or commands attention depending on the time of day, lighting conditions, and the season.

The interior of the cabin contrasts the crisp metalwork of the exterior with more organic forms and materials. White parged stone walls are faced with warm-hued pine that wraps onto the ceiling and the floor is a terrazzo tile atop a concrete floor and cantilevered entry. Classic mid-century furniture is set alongside contemporary pieces — part of the studio’s own outdoor furniture brand — creating a cozy atmosphere for writing, reading, and lounging. The door, window, and skylight allow for ample natural light to the semi-buried structure. Windows sit within deep aluminum frames which bring a material connection to the exterior and also act as shading devices in the summertime.

The site which can be prone to storm surges from the parallel river which feeds the creek kept the designers busy balancing flood-proof measures while embracing the unpredictability and beauty of the waterway. One such measure that the team designed is the removable caps that seal off doors and windows in extreme weather events to reduce damage.

Considering the environmental impact of the project was integral to the design process. Where possible, the structure was reused and materials were repurposed, like the fiberglass grating — sourced from a car wash — that becomes an informal perch on the roof. For the aluminum facade, the designers ensured that the laser-cut sheet metal parts were efficient in terms of material yield. These strategies had the added benefit of reducing the overall project cost.

The cabin provides the owners with a flexible and dynamic year-round enclosure. In winter, the cabin disappears into its setting and serves as a cozy writing and reading room. On summer days, the facade comes to life, glistening in the sun as it becomes a jumping-off point for exploring and relaxing along the creek. What it lacks in size, the cabin makes up for in its function, as it serves as a vital way to connect the owners to nature.

Read more

Status: Built
Location: Wallingford, PA, US
Firm Role: Architect