Mourning Dovecote


Mourning Dovecote

S^A | Schwartz and Architecture

This 390 sq ft studio addition onto the owner/architect’s existing home in Sonoma, California takes inspiration from the site’s abundant pairs of Mourning Doves. The Mourning Dove, one of the most widespread of all North American birds suffering the impact of habitat loss, is typically monogamous yet is a prolific breeder, raising up to six broods a year. Both sexes take turn incubating –the male from morning to afternoon, and the female the rest of the day and night. Appreciation of these qualities, and the dove’s historical associations with peace and calm, made the idea of co-habitation with them a critical leitmotif –one made even more potent in a global pandemic.

A traditional country ‘dovecote’ houses pigeons or doves, sometimes freestanding but often built into the ends of houses or barns. The architect researched the most advantageous height, orientation, proportion, and ventilation to encourage nesting doves –a process that informed both the shape of the exterior and interior space. The work also serves as a response to the proliferation of the ‘modern farmhouse’ style for new wine country homes –structures with the veneer of traditional farm buildings yet often out of scale with their surroundings, ill-sited, and ill-considered.

This highly personal and customized project became a site for exploration and play. The owner/architect followed every intuition about details that might contribute to the bespoke space, hoping to stay just this side of ‘too-much.’ What unites the disparate details of this addition is a sense of movement, craft, nature, and serenity.

Although hidden from the interior, twelve nesting boxes built into the angled exterior façade, encourage the bird’s co-habitation of the space as in traditional dovecote structures. A lower bird-watching window focuses on the doves as they ground-feed and serves as convenient viewing spot for the owner’s two Spinone Italiani bird-dogs.

The ceiling is a series of slightly triangular planes in an off-white plaster that subtly captures the shifts in natural light. An aluminum art panel floats in front of an angled wall to intensify the depth of the abstract space. English Sycamore cabinetry with a slight translucent whitewash finish matches the plaster. A dark natural cork floor tile grounds the space.

A custom sheer curtain divides the new space from the old with an image of a murmuration of swallows flocking. The photographer Richard Barnes supplied an image from his Murmur series of these flocks, from which we made the Murmuration Drape. We divided the image into five unique panels and printed them on sheer silk. We then reassembled the image, thus creating a fluttering threshold to, and backdrop for, the dovecote.

The Pull-Me-Closer (aka Push-Me-Away) handles are an ode to Alvar Aalto’s modern but inviting approach to interiors. We modeled the shape digitally after multiple failed wood and clay prototypes. A local foundry took our 3D-printed plastic forms and created a mold to cast them in bronze. We then bound them in leather strapping, using a traditional Manchurian sword-hilt wrapping technique (and far too many hours of YouTube videos).

Conceptually, the essence of the goals of sustainability are inscribed into the project even beyond basic code requirements. The project’s program is the co-habitation of people with their natural environments –here, Mourning Doves. More than just a naturalist’s interest in birdwatching, the nesting boxes –hidden from the inside– encourage the experience of their coos nearby sight unseen. At its heart, the project assumes a balanced, equal, and respectful relationship with our natural environments. On a human scale, the flexible floorplan accommodates remote working arrangements for a small office, decreasing reliance on vehicular commuter traffic.

On a sustainability aspect, the project considers its impact on the whole surrounding ecosystem as well its energy consumption very early on in the design process. Preservation of existing landscape, taking advantage of natural resources such as natural daylight and storm water are efficiently utilized throughout the project. Computational modeling and analysis were conducted to understand the quality and levels of natural light throughout the day and year, deciding the site, orientation, overhangs, openings, and programming of the structure. More conventionally, the project includes sustainable materials such as cork flooring, radiant heating, and solar panels. The roof ‘feathers’ are laser cut from sheet metal, carefully nested to ensure minimal waste in fabrication. Similarly, the offcuts from the cedar siding are used to create the laminated entry bridge to the dovecote studio space. The project can operate entirely off-grid with on-site renewable energy generation. As such it can become an area of refuge in times of increasing environmental instability such as wildfires and floodings. The solar array installed as part of this project scope produces enough energy to offset 100% of the annual fossil fuel use for the entire property.

Key Team Members

Christopher Baile, S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
Ania Burlinska, S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
Laura Huylebroeck, S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
Cutright Construction / Brian Cutright, Construction
iAssociates / David Inlow, Structural Engineer
PritchardPeck Lighting, Lighting
Totem Landscape Services, Landscape
Orit Yanai StudioCentral , Plaster
Maggie Connors, Painting
Douglas Sterling Photography , Photography