Bird Watchers’ House

Location Maple Valley, Washington
Design Principal Jim Olson

Bounded by forest and meadow in a rural area south of Seattle, this three-story house was designed for two avid ornithologists. Window walls, rooftop terraces and small outdoor buildings allow the owners to experience nature close-up and in every direction. The verticality of the structure—a stack of glass boxes—minimizes the impact to the site and provides vantage points for observing birds both at ground level and in the treetops.

A bronze wall sculpture of a swallow in flight hangs at the entrance to the Bird Watchers’ House.

While the cross-axial plan is oriented to the cardinal directions, effectively dividing the house into four corner blocks, its irregular massing hearkens to the interlocking volumes of a Rubik’s Cube. At the center of the house is a skylit “cosmic” shaft, a symbolic link between earth and sky, which provides a place for the owners to display their collection of small paintings in the light-filtered core.

Partially covered with metal and shotcrete, the entrance to this wood-framed structure is defined by a tall gridded wall set behind a curving partition on which is mounted Philip McCracken’s bronze Bird in Flight. A roof garden with a greenhouse and vegetable garden tops the second story.

Birds are attracted to the house, because they feel like it belongs in the natural setting.

Jim Olson Design Principal



Design Principal

Jim Olson



Boschetti, Joseph. Water Spaces Vol. 4: A Pictoral View. Victoria: Images Publishing, July 2006, 20, 104-105, 110-111, 134. Book.


“A Bird’s-eye view.” BUILDER, April 2005, 82. Print.

Hines, Susan. “For the Birds.” Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM), June 2005, 116-123. Print. Web.

Pittel, Christine. “Point of view.” House Beautiful, Dec. 2005, 64-67. Print.


Albert, Fred. “Embraced by nature.” Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Oct. 2004, 70-76. Print.

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