Architect: Olson Kundig

Owner: Bruce Shafer

Location: Tehachapi, California

Category: Up to $1.5 million in construction cost (category two)

A family retreat embedded into the tough, scrubby landscape, Sawmill is self sufficient, durable, and economic.

Set in the harsh high desert of California, Sawmill is a family retreat embedded into the tough, scrubby landscape. The design approach was driven by a scavenger mentality—at every turn, Sawmill harnesses the extreme opportunities presented by its remote site—seeking always to do more with less. The net-zero home operates completely off the grid, reducing environmental impact and operating costs. Salvaged and recycled materials were used whenever possible, including structural steel recovered from a nearby cement mine and wood discovered onsite in an existing barn. The benefit of such choices is manifold: not only were these materials diverted from the waste stream, they provided significant cost savings while reducing the home’s carbon impact. Ultimately, Sawmill’s low-maintenance and durable materials were selected for their ability to withstand the rugged environment that the family seeks to engage with, making this home tough as nails and long-lasting for future generations.  

"Elegant in its simplicity" ~ Jury comment

Additional information

Contractor: Bruce Shafer

Corrugated metal roofing: Steelogic

Engineer - energy: WSP Flack + Kurtz

Engineer - gizmo: Phil Turner

Master welder: James Riddle

Engineer - structural: Monte Clark Engineering


Carolyn Adams, AIA (Chair), Carolyn Adams Architecture PLLC, Kirkland, Washington

Michael Antenora, AIA, Antenora Architects LLP, Austin, Texas  

Steve Kordalski, AIA, Kordalski Architects Inc., Cleveland, Ohio

Brandon Frazier Pace, AIA, Sanders Pace Architecture LLC, Knoxville, Tennessee

Elizabeth Whittaker, AIA, Merge Architects, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Image credits


Gabe Border


Gabe Border


Kevin Scott


Kevin Scott


Kevin Scott


Kevin Scott