Architecture: Hirzel receives AIA merit award

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Hirzel house


By Tina Hilding, College of Engineering and Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – Paul Hirzel, professor in the School of Design and Construction, received a merit award from the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects for his River Structures project.

The annual awards ceremony, held Nov. 4 in Seattle, celebrates excellence in design throughout the Northwest, according to the AIA website.

Challenging geography and snakes

Hirzel designed two structures on a challenging 70-acre site at the end of a single-lane, unpaved road and bordering the Potlatch River near Juliaetta, Idaho. The clients wanted to create a living-work space for their winery and vineyard without compromising the most ideal exposure and soil for grape production.

To achieve this, the new structures were located on a flood plain and nearby basalt cliff – both with healthy populations of rattlesnakes and bull snakes. Additionally, the clients requested close proximity to the river (if possible), energy conservation measures, and minimal site disturbance.

Building on ‘the Bridge’

To respond to these challenges, Hirzel designed what he called ‘the Bridge’ to deal with the flood plain condition. It is constructed from a 15-foot deep steel Howe truss setting on four eight-inch thick concrete piers and is approximately 12 feet above the ground. This strategy minimized ground disturbance, protects from periodic flooding, provided support for a shading trellis, and reduced the potential for snake infestations.

The other structure, called ‘the Lookout’,  was located on the basalt cliff and is constructed with an inverted steel truss exoskeleton to allow a 40-foot cantilever over the river for viewing a salmon spawning pool below.

Hirzel has received numerous awards for his designs, including AIA Honor awards for his Canyon House and Mountain House projects. He also has been recognized nationally for his unique site design course, which emphasizes the idea of considering place, setting and context in design.

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Paul Hirzel, WSU School of Design and Construction, 509-335-1373,

Tina Hilding, College of Engineering and Architecture, 509-335-5095,