River House Retreat Facility

Barton Phelps & Associates - River House Retreat Facility

River House Retreat Facility
Osage County, Missouri

Landscape Change: The site is a wooded limestone bluff overlooking the Osage River on a thousand acre farm in the rolling Ozarks. The house initiates a retreat / conference center and ecological preserve for use by extended family, youth groups, and educational institutions. Its design reflects ideas about social interaction and the experience of nature. New facilities are sited for minimal disruption of natural terrain and farming continues as surrounding woodlands and meadows undergo restoration.

The entry drive begins high on the property giving expansive views of the farm but no hint of the house or river. After passing through densely treed woods, it makes an abrupt turn into a car court. The view through the entry portal dominates the front of the house and upon entering one gets a first full view of the river below.

Design for gathering (and escaping): a complexity of initiative for public and private uses is reflected in the plan. Clusters of rooms frame the central court, itself defining a niche in the larger landscape. The pattern gives options for social interaction in family and conference modes. Lined by arcades on three sides, the courtyard functions urbanistically as the most public space (the entry canopy is designed as an orchestra shell) and most other spaces are entered off it. Glass enclosures expose interior volumes to view from all sides and afford long sight lines from within. In winter, an overhead glass door closes the portal to complete the interior hallway around the courtyard. On the west, two-story bedroom suites are separated by walkways that give private routes into the woods. Sitting rooms and screened porches cantilever over the forest floor, softening the building's landing and merging with outside.

Other-directed spaces: communal activities in the east wing are reached via the courtyard. Shed-roofed volumes project from the bluff, interacting differently with the outdoors. The gallery / living room extends farthest - along an axial clearing - to frame a view of the river's southerly arc. The dining room pushes into the woods, its slanted window mullions tilting with the tree trunks beyond. In the billiard room, glazed corners give non-axial views out and back into the house.

Duality: building form and materials emphasize variety in spatial type and heighten awareness of difference - communal and private, open and closed, opaque and transparent, above and below, heavy and light – and allow users to prefer particular places for group activity or solitude. The stone masonry on the front and lower storey anchor the building to the rock on which it is built. The battered masonry base lifts the wood-sided envelopes of the mostly single-story composition. Entered at the low end of its folded ceiling, the pool space rises to give views out amid a grove of stone piers. A limestone bank supports lighter looking rough stone steps that link the lower garden with the central courtyard.

Elevated Performance: a "groundsource" well system converts ground water temperature to heat pump energy and space heating combines radiant slabs and forced-air systems for efficiency. Pool water is heated by groundsource and kept covered when not in use. North – south orientation and deep embedment of the lower levels in natural rock reduce energy requirements. Glazing systems are thermally broken metal frames with inch - thick insulating glass. Louvered arcades reduce summer heat gain. Domestic water is supplied by wells on the property and septic systems with sand-bed filters release clean irrigation water. Fire sprinkler and hydrant systems are fed from the pool and farm pond.

100x: Architects of the Americas, Braun, Switzerland, 2008
Dream Homes Los Angeles, Panache, 2008
Out of Town Images, (Australia), 2006
New Houses, Loft Publications (Barcelona) 2005

Long for the River, Colorfulness (Beijing), June, 2004
Susan Morgan, Advanced Geometry in Missouri, Western Interiors and Design, November, 2003
Barton Phelps, FAIA, A House at the Meeting of Two Landscapes, Places, A Forum of Environmental Design, Volume 14, No. 3, Spring, 2002
Alexander Salangan, The Farm by the River, Interior Digest (Moskow), October, 2002

Arkinetia internet, (Madrid) House, 2006

Amazing Vacation Houses, The Travel Channel, Mathis Productions, 2004

Design Awards
Building Stone Institute: Tucker Award, Chicago, 2004
AIA / St. Louis, St. Louis, 2002;
Chicago Athenaeum, American Architecture Award, Chicago, 2002.

Photography: Timothy Hursley, The Arkansas Office