The Hippie House


The year was 1971 and my father had taken a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, which sent my family to the wilds of Anchorage, Alaska. We were put up in a hotel for a month and instructed to find a home. As luck would have it, we did find a unique home and it sat on two acres of land in Anchorage's pristine Bear Valley. Unfortunately, when our car pulled up the long, bumpy driveway, we were greeted by the sight of charred children's toys, clothes and even bathroom tiles on the front lawn. It turned out that the house was constructed by a group of hippies in the 1960's who used any resources they could find, including a gigantic piece of plywood that was labeled Elmendorf Airforce Base, to build their Shangri-La in the woods. When it was time to move on, they packed all they could in their VW Bus and the rest they put into a pile and burned in the front yard. It was a sight to behold as a young child and has since become part of the charm of a house my family has lived in for the past 40 years.

Spurred on by the changing needs of my aging parents, the family came to the decision that it was time to start remodeling our childhood home to improve its accessibility. I began the process as I do with all of my clientele; I sent each family member a list of questions that they were instructed to answer in handwritten form and separate from each other. I feel strongly that when one is forced to hand-write their answers, there is a level of concern and honesty that comes across that is not conveyed in electronic form. Once I received everyone's responses, I traveled from Portland to Anchorage so that we could sit down as a family and discuss our concerns and desires for the remodel. Now on the 8th draft of the floor plan, I have learned that dealing with family can be far trickier than dealing with corporate accounts.

There is a certain level of delicacy that needs to be taken into account when working with family, especially a family that is planning on changing a home that has seen all of its children transform into adults. While the architect in me sees changes to the loud and inefficient heating system as a necessity, my parents see it as a welcome and comforting quirk of their home. Change, even the necessary changes needed to bring the home up to code, are frightening and a source of great strife. Additionally, I am dealing with a home that was constructed with borrowed parts and 2x4's so surprises are guaranteed to lurk behind its walls; surprises that could potentially derail a budget and design plan.

While I have designed stadiums and state-of-the-art facilities this is the first time that I have had to deal with such a level of unknown. Despite the challenges, I am grateful for the opportunity as I am growing as an architect and developing the skills necessary to navigate even the most delicate of projects. I welcome you to follow me on this journey that affects all of us who are lucky enough to see our parent's reach old age.

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