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  • Writer's pictureDuff Bangs

#002 High Desert Design Factors

Photo by modFORM LLC

I grew up here in Wenatchee, WA located in sunny Eastern Washington and I am very inspired by this beautiful landscape. From the majestic Cascade Mountains to the West and the expansive wheat fields to the East, Wenatchee is centered within a pretty special place. For those of you not familiar with the region, Eastern Washington is a semi-arid climate typically labeled as high desert. Typically it is dry all year long with very minimal rain due in part by the Cascade mountain range creating a rain shadow. The summers are hot and dry sometimes reaching to 100 degrees Fahrenheit plus, down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and lower in the winters all the while bringing dry, fluffy powdery snow.

The Eastern Washington landscape has been shaped by some unique geological events including the uplift of the Cascades, to lava flows creating unique basalt cliffs and glaciers and prehistoric flooding carving out much of the regions scenic coulees. The result is a magnificent landscape with a variety of rivers, lakes, mountains and cliffs.

With the dry climate and unique landscape, this creates a perfect recipe for recreational opportunities and photographic scenery. And naturally, as an architect, I look at ways that I can create architecture suited for this kind of environment. With such a beautiful and picturesque landscape, I like to design architecture that is merely a backdrop to the environment. Let the landscape come first and be the highlight and let the architecture fade back be the subtle place that fits in with the surroundings. Let the architecture be the viewing platform for nature and not the thing to be viewed.

I am also using this blog as an opportunity to introduce a Case Study cabin modFORM is designing for the Wenatchee area. With this Case Study, I want to share with my audience the steps I take for my design process from searching for land, arranging the clients program into a magnificent design to choosing specifications and completing a set of drawings for construction. I'll write a blog post highlighting the important phases for the entire process.

With starting a small case study cabin designed for the Eastern Washington landscape, I ask myself what is an appropriate design for the region? There are many factors that attribute to the initial design process. Below are just a few of the climatic and site factors I consider when designing for a cabin or a house located Eastern Washington. Keep in mind these all just considerations and not necessarily strict guidelines for design.


The sun is a very important factor to consider especially in a sunny place like Wenatchee. The sun azimuth (or angle relative to the horizon) is an important factor when considering heat gain inside a house. In a hot climate, it is typically desirable to limit the amount of sun or heat entering a home during the summer months and maximize the amount of sun or heat gain during winter months. Typically a sun study for the region is very helpful to help inform the size of windows and the size of roof overhangs. This diagram below shows how the overhang blocks direct sun during the summer and allows for direct summer during the winter.


The sun path throughout the day is something to consider as well. The position of a house and location of windows can effect the amount of light and heat entering into a house. Positioning a house directly south as in the diagram below, allows for a considerable amount of sun and heat to enter a house. This may be desirable for colder winter months but perhaps not as much during summer months.

The afternoon is typically the hottest time of the day. Positioning a house rotated to the West allows for a nice amount of light and heat to enter a house right before sunset which may be desirable to maintain that passive heat for the cold winter months but not as much for the summer.


I discussed how to capture light and heat during winter months above but, another consideration during the winter for this region is snow. Snow can add a bit of weight to a roof and traditionally, homes in snowy climates were designed with steep pitched roofs to shed the snow. However, if a less steep roof is desired, a deeper, stouter roof structure can be used.

Another consideration is snow shed or how and where the snow falls from the roof. Typically a roof with a larger overhang such as in the diagram below pushes the snow away from the walls of the house. In a place that receives a large amount of snow allows for snow to pile up and collect against the walls of the house creating more wear and tear on the siding.


Wind is more of a consideration for summer months rather than winter months. Wind is a great way to naturally cool a house. Understanding which direction the wind comes from and how topography effects airflow, are important factors when positioning a house. Using large operable windows positioned on opposite sides of a home is a good way to allow air to flow throughout cooling the house passively without the use of air conditioning.


This one is pretty simple but a very important factor in positioning a house. Something to consider is how can you position the house and windows to take advantage of the best view? Of course all the above factors also need to be considered along with other site conditions such as vegetation. In some instances, one may prefer to face trees or other site features instead.

These are just a few environmental and climatic factors I consider when designing for a home in Eastern Washington. Keep in mind that there are many other factors such as topography and other site factors that may contribute to the positioning and design of a house.

Stay tuned as I continue to develop this Case Study project and watch how all these factors and many others start to shape the design and development of this little Case Study cabin.

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