A Day at Prickly Mountain

September 21, 2018
By Madi Visser, Semester Program Teaching Assistant


--Written by Orly

Last Thursday we had the pleasure of touring some private homes at Vermont’s revered Prickly Mountain. Prickly Mountain is relevant to our program as a critical piece of Yestermorrow’s history; the 450 acre site is the birth place of Vermont’s design/build movement. In 1964 three renegade Yale Architecture students sought cheap land for experimental design free from constraints. The basis of their style was to plan nothing in advance, hence “Architectural Improvisation.”  Their structures gained critical acclaim as they attempted never-before-seen moves. Located right here in the Mad River Valley, Prickly Mountain has since become a part of this region’s identity and puts Warren, VT on the global map as design/build continues to grow in popularity.

These structures, “The Tack House” and “Dimetrodon” are two of the classic structures on Prickly Mountain. The abundant bent plexiglas was a highlight for most of us as we have faced constant pushback for including skylights in our small structure. The Tack House (left, built in 1965) highlighted dynamic architecture in contrast to the idealized style of clear and understandable architecture. Dimetrodon (right, built in 1970) is a co-housing structure with six single-family units and a community garden with the original intent to be fully solar and wind powered (all the way back then!).

Here are some detail photos of the crazy design moves they attempted. The water running between those two red roofs—an outdoor shower!

One cannot discuss Prickly Mountain without mention of David Sellars—a name that anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Valley knows well. Sellars has an approach to architecture that resembles art more than construction. He wanted to bridge the gap between the architect and the entrepreneur and this move created a new system of design which many know as his legacy (design/build). Sellars continues to design (at the age of 80), and we were fortunate enough to visit his current project the Home Run House which we gave varying reviews.

The class was conflicted on concrete as a residential home material. Some loved it, others found it cold and unwelcoming. Other contentious pieces of this project were the placement of Roman-style pillars in the entryway next to a glass ceiling room full of plants. The contrast went too far for some (myself included).

This picture was taken inside the house!! Below, the floor drops down into dirt leaving the possibility for full trees to grow inside.

Overall we were blown away by what people attempted and achieved. We continued to be astounded each new building we entered, and left the mountain feeling oversaturated with information. It was so much to take in!

That’s all for now