Everyone loves the idea of camping. Part of the allure is in breaking down the barriers between human and landscape. Peeling off our layers of protective covering, we expose our nerve endings to keener feeling. We revel in small observations that typically escape our notice, while at the same time, we perceive more acutely our deep connection to the powerful influences of the natural world. But still, most of us prefer a roof above us and a place to brush our teeth without peril. The following experiments in streamlined shelter explore what it means to pare down to bare essentials, without stripping the poetry from the poem.

Swamp Things

Dining, sleeping, bathing, relaxing. If you can fulfill this program, you have the basics of shelter and the answer to much of what the soul craves. For Keith Moskow, AIA, and Robert Linn, “Swamp Hut” answered a desire for an office retreat and family gathering place and, because they're architects, it provided a welcome opportunity for outside-the-box thinking.

Lot constraints limited the buildable site to just 1/8 of an acre of the swampy, 10-acre parcel in Newton, Mass., and required the architects to hand-carry materials along a dirt road. Playing with the tension between exposure and shelter, they distilled the retreat's components into two sleeping huts, an open-air picnic hut, and a bathing hut. The four teepeelike structures—built of stock lumber, translucent fiberglass panels, and galvanized steel connections—terminate the four sides of a platform deck, creating a feeling of primal protection. Designed for prefabrication, the kit of parts fits atop a flatbed truck.—S.C.C.

Architect: Moskow Linn Architects, Boston;
Builder: Moskow Design Build, Boston;
Photographers: Keith Moskow, AIA, and Robert Linn.

Rolling Wonders

This 40-acre property in scenic Mazama, Wash., was zoned only for a main house and RV use, but the owner wanted guest cabins he could occasionally rent out. So architect Tom Kundig, FAIA, put these small, self-contained “wooden tents” up on wheels. They're at once light on the land and warm, glowing beacons of welcome in an otherwise harsh landscape. The huts' roofs pop up above the structures to capture every ray of Pacific Northwestern light, but a glass-rimmed monitor keeps rougher elements at bay. Inside, like an Airstream trailer, are the basics for survival, with durable plywood walls and cork floors. A bathing barn lies a discreet distance behind, and offers luxurious creature comforts—like heated showers.

The six 200-square-foot “Rolling Huts,” as they are called, each have a rudimentary kitchenette, a built-in bed, a dining/living banquette, and a woodburning Euro stove for heat.

It's like camping, but reassuringly removed from its most unpleasant aspects.—S.C.C. with C.W.

Architect: Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, Seattle;
Builder: Tim Tanner, Seattle;
Structural engineer: MCE Structural Consultants, Stevensville, Mont.;
Photographer: Tim Bies.

Five Rusty Pieces

It's probably best these former shipping containers serve only as guest quarters to a more commodious West Texas ranch house. For stays of limited duration, the corrugated cabins offer a seductive, reductive appeal and the promise of a simpler, more elemental experience of daily life.

To preserve the fragile vegetation on the 3,500-acre site, the cabins were fitted for habitation off site—with MDF interiors and rudimentary necessities—and hauled in by twos on an 18-wheeler. They were then craned from an existing road and placed delicately onto hand-poured concrete piers.

Three of the five buildings in Cinco Camp, as it's called, are bedroom/bath units, one is a kitchen/dining zone, and there's an extra one for storage and utilities. A long deck of steel bar grating connects them to each other and to a stargazing platform in front. Wafer-thin roofs rise above the structures, blocking the overhead sun and exhausting spent air ventilated through their sliding front doors and large rear windows.—S.C.C. with C.W.

Architect: Rhotenberry Wellen Architects, Midland, Texas;
Builder: Ekstrom Construction Co., Midland;
Photographer: Hester + Hardaway.