Cottonwood Cabins

Just outside of Thoreau, New Mexico standing in a sparse and arid forest of Juniper and Ponderosa Pine six bunkhouse cabins and outdoor kitchen expand the campus at Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions. The challenge was to engage mass timber construction without dismissing the deep architectural history of the camp. The cabins reinterpret the vernacular of the campus, the earliest loop having been designed by Kurt Vonnegut Sr, architect-father of the renowned writer. Drawing on the camp’s existing “porch culture,” the cabins are conceived as pairs of 200 square foot bunk houses united by a roof enclosing a shared outdoor gathering space. Each cabin seeks strong connections to nature with apertures placed in order to open the interior experience to the surrounding environment. Doors are mounted on sliding tracks and conceived as movable walls. Large glazing areas allow the interior to be flooded by the morning light and provide occupiable moments to contemplate the world outside.

The cabins are elevated above the landscape to help separate the fauna of desert New Mexico, some of which can carry Hantavirus, from the campers inhabiting the cabins.  On the interior, the bunks float above the floor, hung from the ceiling by steel rods. This removes all interior vertical surfaces and provides clear lines of sight into corners, leaving no spaces for mice to hide or nest. Inhabitable exterior porches are constructed of bar grate to make them visually transparent and facilitate the catch and relocation of rattlesnakes.

Each cabin’s bunk beds are designed to offer campers agency on how they occupy the space. The traditional rigid bunk beds found in most summer camps are replaced with floating platforms designed with more space than is required for a single mattress. This gives each camper the ability to choose whether they engage a window, sleep close to a friend, utilize negative space for benches, or find their own creative way to make the cabin their own.

Images and Plans


Technical Description

The construction of the cabins is an investigation into mass-timber building technology. Screw-laminated 3 by 6-inch tongue and groove fir timbers are used to achieve solid floors, walls, and ceilings. The screw laminated timbers act as a single diaphragm, achieving greater spans and cantilevers than individual pieces of lumber could alone. At the ends of the cabins where they cantilever past the support piers, the timbers are connected as a portal frame and the entirety of the floor, walls, and ceiling act together as a beam to hold up the cabins. This action is then scaled down to the “pop-out” window frames and post-tensioned bunk beds where these same wood members work together to create resting places that serve as a social space while formally drawing the wilderness inside.


Sarah Vanderpool, Cody VanHolland, Malgorzata "Gosha" Tomasik, Reme Shipley, Juaquine Silveira, Kristina Artyushkevich, David Burton, Emiliano Morales, Genevieve Hampton, Angie Markous, Filimon Alvarez, Jesse Wilcoxen, Jessica Luchak, Kasey King, Katherine McGonigle, Michelle Ropson, Morgan Young, Andrew Hubbard, Mike Hackett, Stephen Edwards, Lorraine Ziegler, Pekko Sangi, Aria Dellepiane, Kristin King, Forester "Clark" LaMotte, Tamrat Getu, Lenora Woodcock
Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions
Andy Paddock

Academic Discipline(s)
27 Students
Academic Level(s)
Graduate Students
Academic Facts

Site / Structure Dimension
Three 500 sq. ft. cabins and one 300 sq. ft. outdoor kitchen
109000 €
0 €
In Kind
Project Start
Transportation of Skill
Project Context
Project Type
Hospitality | Housing
Construction Methods/Techniques