Camp O House-Studio by María Milans Studio

Located in Catskills, New York, this contemporary mountain house has been designed in 2018 by María Milans Studio.

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The design is rooted in the modern tradition but, at the same time, it is tied to its geographical and cultural context. It seeks to mediate between the global and the local languages of architecture. The value of this project is placed on materials, topography, climate and light. The end result talks to all senses as nature informs the experience inside the house.

Camp O reinterprets the local vernacular architecture. The materials and elements are the same than in neighboring barns, houses and cabins (concrete foundation, wood siding, plywood sheathing, wood stud walls, beams and joists, metal double-pitched roof); the difference is how they are treated, assembled and organized, becoming the basis of the design and perception of the house. The result is a combination of humble materials with minimum detailing that require minimum maintenance, weather naturally and change through time in tune with the surrounding woods.

Standard wood sheathing dimensions (1.2 x 2.4m) are utilized to establish the structural rhythm, A,B,A (1.2, 2.4, 1.1m), and since the thermal insulation is a continuous layer on the exterior side, this rhythm guides the placing of openings, interior partitions, floor layout, shelving, lighting, etc. resulting in a harmonic overall volume and simpler construction.

The design incorporates foreign techniques and materials enhancing the building’s performance. Insulation is applied to the exterior side of walls and roof, resulting in a continuous layer of insulation that minimizes thermal bridges. The charred cedar rain screen requires minimal maintenance and its texture tunes in with the woods around it. The kitchen, second story floors and all bathrooms’ surfaces are covered with Viroc, a composite material made of cement and wood fiber encompassing good thermal lag, water resistance and little expansion and contraction through time, key qualities to get the most out of the house’s radiant floor system and wet rooms.

The design decomposes the traditional double-pitched roof adjusting the building’s footprint to the existing clearing and slopes and minimizing the impact of construction in the surrounding woods. The roof ridges are on the East and West walls of the house (as opposed to on the center of the building), efficiently opening views to the valley and woods, and maximizing sunlight and ventilation in the interior of the house.

At Camp O, the dialogue between the stereotomic and the tectonic together with its haptic qualities transcend the mere appearance of the technical in much the same way as its place-form withstands the passing of time rooting the building into the Nature that surrounds it.


The house-studio is located in the middle of the Catskills’ preserve at an elevation of 2,550 feet. Oak, birch and maple trees flank a small driveway that ends in a sloped clearing. Impact on the site is minimal as the building rises on the existing clearing.

The building is a narrow and long volume (24 x 58 feet footprint) accommodating the site’s slope and location. The first section of the volume is 24 feet long and the roof pitches towards one side, the second volume is 34 feet long with the roof pitching towards the opposite side. To deal with the 10% North-South slope and the 20% East-West slope of the site, we built a concrete slab and a U-shaped retaining wall that opens up towards the opposite side of the driveway, facing the best views of Wildcat Mountain and the valley.

To address drastic temperature swings, strong North-South winds, maximize interior comfort and minimize energy consumption we placed the openings on the East and West facades achieving cross ventilation, optimal exposure to sun radiation and protection from dominant winds.

The insulation is outside the building envelope creating a continuous insulated volume, eliminating thermal bridges and allowing us to leave the structure exposed on the interior. The façade is a cedar rain screen treated with “ShouSugi Ban”, a Japanese wood-charring technique that protects cedar from water, fire and insects and doesn’t require maintenance. The wood acquires an iridescent texture reflecting the light and colors through all seasons. Furthermore, the weathering of the façade tunes in with the surrounding landscape, constantly attuned with the woods.

Entering through the front door, the interior mimics the approach to the site: a narrow and long space with indirect light coming from the staircase (driveway) and comprising four bedrooms and three bathrooms in two stories; then it opens to a double height space (the clearing) containing living, dining, open kitchen and a studio. Throughout the building we alternate spans of 4’ to locate doors and windows, and 8’ to frame the views.

Three openings and two pitched roofs: The first large opening gives the master bedroom a bird’s eye view of the mountains. The other two large openings flank the double height space showing the mountains on the West and the treetops on the East. The experience of this space changes through the day and the four seasons, receiving natural light from different sides from sunrise to sunset and witnessing the radical change of the surrounding landscape. The material experience of the house-studio varies with the changes in light, leafiness and forest’s colors.

The building becomes a resonance box that intensifies the experience of the outdoors indoors: Its insertion into the site, its volumetry and its materiality express the site’s calling into matter.

Photography by Montse Zamorano

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- by Matt Watts