Architect: Olson Kundig

Location: Tehachapi, California

Category: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences (category one)

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. Shaped by the challenges and opportunities of the remote site, Sawmill is self-sufficient, durable, and economic.

Riffing on the tradition of tents around a campfire, the 5,200 square foot house is comprised of three private zones or ‘tents’ surrounding a central family hearth. Each ‘tent’ projects out from the main gathering space: one zone for the parents and one for each of their two children — and, someday, their families and extended families.

The owners conceive of this retreat as a lasting marker of their presence and legacy in the area—a welcoming convening space that will keep them coming back to this rural landscape that they’ve come to love and hope to preserve for generations.

"A very well done cabin which doesn't seem to be any more than needed as far as size but offers much more as far as spirit and understanding of the place."—Jury comment

Additional information

Contractor: Bruce Shafer

Corrugated metal roofing: Steelogic

Engineer: Phil Turner

Engineer (energy): WSP Flack + Kurtz Gizmo

Engineer (structural): Monte Clark Engineering

Master welder: James Riddle


Katherine Williams, AIA, (Chair) Fifth Generation Holdings, Falls Church, Virginia

Joe Digrado, AIA, Danielian Associates, Irvine, California

Blake Held, AIA, Blake H. Held Architect, PLLC, Honeoye Falls, New York

Charles Mudede, The Stranger (Journalist), Seattle Washington

David Perkes, AIA, Mississippi State University GCCDS, Biloxi, Mississippi    

Image credits


Kevin Scott


Gabe Border


Kevin Scott


Kevin Scott


Kevin Scott


Gabe Border