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Inside a Family Home Built Around a 12,000-Year-Old Boulder

Today Architectural Digest travels to the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York to tour the Rock’n’House, a remarkable family home built around a 12,000 year-old-boulder. Some might have found themselves between a rock and a hard place after finding a prehistoric glacial erratic in the middle of their land, but for architect Christian Wassmann, it was just what he was looking for. The boulder became the central feature of Wassmann’s design and is always present in his family’s impressive home–the perfect example of how humans and nature can coexist as one.

Released on 08/24/2023


[birds chirping] [gentle serene music]

[Christian] The boulder is always present.

You see it through triple glass that is curved.

You see it through a round window in the kitchen.

You are aware of the boulder even in the spaces

that don't have direct views,

because the walls are either radial

or curved around the center of the rock.

[birds chirping] [gentle serene music]

Welcome to the rocking house

in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.

[gentle serene music]

I designed this and built this with the help

of local craftspeople

and it is also my family's home.

When we found the property,

this boulder was magically resting

on the highest spot of the land

and we felt this was an invitation

to design a house right around it.

That's where everything started.

We had a compass built

and we circled, made the first courtyard

with a plumb, a level, and a very long stick.

[gentle serene music]

This house is entirely sustainable.

It's built out of sustainably harvested wood

from forests that are certified.

This is a conical roof clad in solar panels

and it also produces more energy

that it will ever consume in the lifespan

of about a 100 to 300 years.

It harvests all the solar energy that we need

to run the house and it collects

also rain water for a swimming pond.

[gentle serene music]

Let me show you inside.

So here we're in the mudroom

which has seven foot four high ceilings

and then it slowly gets narrower

and then it gets wider and wider all the way

to the main space which has

in the tip there a 22 foot ceiling.

The sunken living room was one

of these pandemic additions.

Out of curiosity, I took a pickaxe one night

and to check how deep the bedrock is

and found out that it was about four feet.

This sunken living room has many ways

of inhabiting it.

Here I'm sitting probably the most upright

and then we have this tetrahedron pillows

that can serve as headrests.

There is also the chance that you can go

all the way down and lay flat onto the bedrock

and it's a whole different experience

and actually very cold right now, very comfortable.

[ethereal music]

The rock is in the center,

but in a way the geometric center of the house

that will be pretty much here.

I think this is very important in this house

that we wanted to not only make it look

in a certain way, but also function

in a perfect way.

Many moments, many days, many dinner parties start

on this kitchen island.

It really is the heart of the house.

This curved kitchen is built by Jan Kremen,

a carpenter from the Czech Republic.

The transition to then a dining

or a more formal sit-down is very fluid.

It's in the same space.

The space gets a little taller

and here we have this rectangular table.

[ethereal music]

A custom made fireplace that are designed

to come straight out of the ceiling.

[ethereal music]

This triple glass is the maximum size

that would fit in an ocean container.

It came from Germany and it had like an inch

on the bottom and on the top

of the shipping container.

The rock also has very different personalities.

When you see it from down here,

it almost feels like in a neck

or the kids call it ET

because ET's face head looks very much like that.

In a winter storm,

it feels you're inside a snow globe

but also it has a little bit

of an aquarium feeling.

You can experience it very differently

from one day to another, from one moment,

from one hour to the next.

I hope the boulder likes the attention.

Yeah, I think he was a little lonely

for 12,000 years till we found him

or he found us.

So it's a glacial erratic that was dropped here

about 12,000 years ago in the last ice age.

The way these rocks fell is really

how we found it.

We like living with him

and I think his trees are growing well.

His moss is growing,

so I think he's a happy boulder.

[ethereal music]

This is my home office

where I often sit and sketch.

It also has the model of the house

that we built shows you all the rooms,

how they relate radial to the rock.

So with each door to one of the spaces,

Lorenzo's bedroom, laundry room, powder room,

guest apartment, Kiki's bedroom,

each door makes the main space three feet wider

and all the windows that look relatively wild

have again something to do with the rock.

We have 64 segments that built this house,

64 pizza slices as we call them.

[ethereal music]

The house is the [indistinct]

between you and nature

where you really set the windows exactly

where they help you to inhabit the interior

in the most comfortable or most exciting way.

When I sit here on my desk,

I wanted to have the view through the window

on my eye level.

Same in my bedroom.

We wanted the window very low to the ground

in order to be able to sit on,

but also to look outside.

This led to a relatively wild layout

from the outside.

That only makes sense

once you inhabit the building inside.

All of our projects in one way or another

start in a sketchbook, models and sketchbooks.

We're trying not to waste anything

so even the kitchen window here,

which is a round window in the concrete wall,

became the fire pit of the fireplace.

This is my daughter's room.

She has the view from her bed

out to the east side sunrise.

She wanted a big desk which can change

as she expands her crafty projects.

My client, in this case, my daughter

was very happy with this design.

Kiki shares the bathroom

with her brother Lorenzo.

They also, at some point,

they were like desiring an outdoor shower,

and so I came up with the idea

of getting a shower that is draining directly

into the concrete slab and it has a big window

where they can open the window

and they can shower pretty much

with nature outside.

This is my son, Lorenzo's room.

He's the lucky one who got a window

that is large enough that it becomes a door

so he can eventually escape

and has his own little private garden out here.

[birds chirping] [ethereal music]

I wanted to have our bedrooms all facing east

so both kids have east exposure and our bedroom

and the guest department is more north west facing.

The bathroom is again,

a relatively compressed space compared

to the very tall bedroom

but then it has a nice little surprise

that you can look down into the main space.

You smell the coffee in the morning already.

You can always call down and be connected

to the main action in the house.

[uplifting music]

[uplifting music]

We wanted the guests also feel independent

from us so it's actually a guest apartment,

and then, we have a built-in couch.

All these beams were prefabricated

and engineered to actually build in a sofa

that takes advantage of the structure itself,

and it is high enough to be comfortable

on the dining table.

This is our Polaris stair

that also has a handrail

that points double functioning

as a naked eye observatory

where you see Polaris at night.

This explains the idea of the stair.

This is the axis of the earth,

so it's a 42 degree steep stair

with a handrail that double functions

as a naked eye observatory of the north star.

This is the guest bedroom with a king size bed

and north exposure and the skylight to the south.

Here you can star gaze

on this Charlotte Perriand

and Le Corbusier Chaise Longue.

[ethereal music]

And you can also open it up

and look out into the sky.

[serene music]

The roof is cone shaped.

We placed the roof in a way

that the largest surface is exposed

around four o'clock the time

when the grid is most used.

So these shingles by sun style

are three foot squares.

They're all overlapping, so it films this kind

of dragon scale, holds the water

out and each one of them produces about 80 watts.

Altogether, we produce 18,000 per year.

The house uses about 8,000 kilowatt hours

so we have 10,000 extra for an electric car,

and the rest we donate to the grid.

[birds chirping] [serene music]

Because we wanted cross ventilation

to have as much natural air as possible,

each facade has windows in it.

So to contrast the curtain wall

on the south side and part of the east,

we continue with a very traditional barn material,

Board and batten facade.

You can see already how the color is shifting.

It's local pine that turns

like a silvery stray.

In my studio, we try to live by this mantra

that everything that we design connects individuals

to each other, to themselves,

and then to the cosmos.

The cosmos can be nature directly around you

but it can also be the sun and various

other star constellations and the ocean,

if there is an ocean or in our case here,

the rock, which is also all stardust

in the end.

Cosmic architecture goes back

to thousands of years of architecture

where old temples, even very simple monuments

were aligned with usually the sun

as the strongest force.

After studying and traveling

to many temples and monuments,

I realized that it was time

to incorporate this also

into more regular architecture.

So why could it not be in a private house?

That's the challenge and that's what sets some

of this cosmic architecture apart

from non cosmic architecture

that you do have this goal to ultimately connect

to something larger than

what is directly around you.

If a building can make you aware of this,

I think it's amazing.

I certainly am obsessed with geometry.

We started stacking out the 50 by 50 square

and the first move was that we actually offset

it by golden ratios.

It's the proportion that appears

in nature in many plants,

but also in the human body.

As an architect, you're always looking forward.

You're not just designing for who you are now

but you're designing for who you want to become.

We built this house with the goal

that it will hold a lifetime,

maybe the lifetime of my kids

and hopefully even till the next ice age.

This is the latest edition by my son

who turned 12 and he built his tree house

with his friends.

I helped them building the zip line

and tested it also for its safety.

Should be fine.



That's my house.

[ethereal music]