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photo of Sawmill
Photo: Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig


Tehachapi, California


Tehachapi, California

  • Design Principal

    Tom Kundig

Set in the harsh high desert of California, Sawmill is a family retreat embedded into the tough, scrubby landscape. Sawmill harnesses the challenges and opportunities of its remote site, emphasizing sustainable strategies and reclaimed materials. Demonstrating that high design can also be high performance, Sawmill is a net-zero home that operates completely off the grid.

The client brief called for a self-sufficient home that maximized connection between architecture and nature, and between family members inside. Riffing on the tradition of tents around a campfire, the house is comprised of three wings connected by the central hearth in the living area. Here, a 12-by-26-foot window wall retracts with the turn of a wheel, transforming the outdoor patio into the fourth “tent” around the fire.

Tough as nails, Sawmill is made from durable materials that can withstand the harsh climate, where fires are a major hazard in summer and winters are extremely cold. The design approach was driven by a scavenger mentality, seeking always to do more with less, including using salvaged and recycled materials whenever possible. Sawmill stands as a testament to high design as an environmental ethic – a building that connects people to place.

The house, through its breathtaking simplicity, provides a calm but very smart connection with this profound and sometimes hostile place. AIA COTE Top Ten Jury




AIA National COTE Top Ten Award

AIA National Small Project Award


AIA National Housing Awards, Honor Award

AIA Northwest Pacific Region Citation Award

Chicago Athenaeum, American Architecture Awards, American Architecture Award



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