Use of Oak in Underhill house reflects the Quaker settlement of simplicity

Inspired by an early Quaker settlement of simplicity, humility and inner focus, Bates Masi architects designed a house known as ‘Underhill’ for a couple who desired to live in an urban environment but yet found the city to be unable to afford the lifestyle they were seeking for their children.

The Quaker is a member of the Religious Society of Friends and are a group of Christians who use no scripture and believe in great simplicity in daily life and in worship. Their services consist mainly of silent meditation.

Underhill is broken into a series of modest gabled structures, each one focused inward on its own garden courtyard instead of out to the surrounding neighbours.

The simplicity of each courtyard reflects the experience of nature, encouraging its owners to appreciate its subtleties. Every interior space is connected to the exterior on two sides and the layering spaces from exterior to interior to courtyard, collapses the boundaries between them. From some vantage points, one may see across multiple spaces and courtyards to framed views beyond. Each volume has a sculpted roof that funnels light and air into the centre of the structure.

Accentuating the central courtyard, the Oak floor and weathered Oak ceiling boards both radiate outwards from the centre. Both the floor and ceiling boards are custom cut in width and metered to continuously and concentrically trace around the courtyard. Weathered metal straps on the ceiling further emphasised this geometry and act as a device to organise lighting and audio-visual equipment through the house.

Accentuating the central courtyard, the Oak floor and weathered Oak ceiling boards both radiate outwards from the centre. Both the floor and ceiling boards are custom cut in width and metered to continuously and concentrically trace around the courtyard. 

The idea of a pavilion is also evident through several moves in the landscape. The building’s inverse form is carved out of the earth to create a lower courtyard at the basement level. To allow light and air in, planted retaining walls slope down into the lower level. Similarly, a sloped depressed area forms a destination in the landscape where a grove of trees grows, creating a contemplative spot much like the interior courtyards.

The shingle coursing and pitched roofs also reflects the early Quaker settlement while the limited materials are carefully detailed to accentuate the geometric form of each pavilion. The courtyard is a device to bring light and nature into the interior of each volume, which results in an inward looking and contemplative home that appeases the parent practical concerns and creates a desirable environment for children’s upbringing.

Source: Bates Masi Architects