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Putney House by Kyu Sung Woo, Putney, Vermont, USA

Kyu Sung Woo creates a contemporary farmstead as a meeting place for his family. Photography by Timothy Hursley

It takes Korean-born architect Kyu Sung Woo two-and-a-half hours to reach his family retreat in Vermont. Leaving his Boston office at 4pm means that by 7pm, Woo and his wife can sit down together for supper. Not simply a weekend getaway for city dwellers however, this house is the culmination of a long-standing commitment: to provide a home from home for Woo’s children and their families.

Having fled Korea during the war, Woo says: ‘It was important to find a place where we could all meet, and the proximity to both Boston and New York was significant.’ Locked in the spirit of the building, therefore, is a strong sense of family history; a sense that anchors the building’s overt contemporary expression. The forms also draw on the architect’s appreciation of both Korean and American domestic types (he still runs offices in both countries.)

Working initially with a landscape architect, clearings were created on the 4.5ha wooded site, set up on the south-westerly slopes of Putney Mountain.

Into the clearings Woo then placed the 300m² house, which recalls the division of agricultural functions in farmstead settlements. Limited to 4.6m depths, each shed contains a distinct use.

One houses workshop, storage space and systems to power this off-grid settlement. The domesticated other two sheds are conjoined, linking a family living and sleeping space to the south and a large studio and meditation space to the north.

The building addresses views to the south and west with large windows set in flush timber cladding or deep timber reveals. To the north, avoiding differential weathering of the western red cedar in this orientation, the structures are clad in corrugated galvanised steel.

Entering a single-storey link embedded within the northernmost building, visitors view the landscape through a courtyard that diminishes in width. Exaggerating the sense of enclosure and elaborating the ritual of arrival, this is more than mere in-between space: it is a point at which to pause. A platform creates a seating area from where you either descend to the left or rise up to the right into the flanking wings, each displaced by three steps.

The two principal roof forms rise up in opposing orientations, with the studio along its length forming an open loft. On the ground floor of the southernmost building, the kitchen has full-width glazing to maximise south-westerly views. This gives onto an external deck, sheltering beneath a jetty of bedrooms above.

Inspired once more by the additive nature of agricultural compounds, more structures are anticipated in response to more people and changing needs. A fourth structure is already planned, providing an additional bedroom and roof terrace to the north. ‘We start building this in June,’ says Woo. ‘It will be a very simple metal box.’

Architect Kyu Sung Woo
Project architect Brett Bentson
Project team Choon Choi, Katie Wirtz, Lan Ying Ip, Sam Choi, Motomu Nakasugi, Danielle Blodgett, Min Ter Lim, Hyang Yi, Zeke Brown
Landscape consultant Reed Hilderbrand Associates
Structural engineer Richmond So Engineers

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