Bayfield, Wisconsin, USA
David Salmela and his design team at Salmela Architects have designed the Wild Rice Retreat Center, a year-round wellness retreat located in the middle of the woods in Northern Wisconsin, that supports artistic expression in nature and nurtures individual creativity and human development.
Integrating the new clustered villages into a 114-acre natural environment,this $6 million project consists of 15 modern Scandanavian-designed, tiny house lodging units, four treehouses, which are two-story units with huge windows and cantilevered spaces, containing four bedrooms, baths, and kitchens, a sauna house, and a new classroom and yoga studio.
The wellness retreat center features meeting and event spaces and has an expansive kitchen, gardens, winebar, and nourishment program for serving retreat guests healthy meals.
The Wild Rice Retrear has been recently awarded a 2023 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
The existing restaurant buildings, designed by the same architects nearly 20 years earlier, are inspired by Scandinavian boathouses and farm buildings common to this coastal Lake Superior region.
The linear dining room and kitchen are each housed in their gable-roofed structure separated by exterior courtyards that provide natural light and views between the two. Two large decks at each end allowed the available dining space to expand and contract with the weather and seasons.
The dining room and decks have been stripped down and repurposed as flexible, multifunctional classrooms that take full advantage of the daylighting and views of the surrounding landscape.
The world-class kitchen continues to nourish guests, albeit in a more casual setting. A second classroom building (known as the Peace Pod) was designed to accommodate a wide range of activities: one day a yoga space, the next day an art studio, with a film screening or seminar during the evenings.
The Sanctuary serves as a secondary gathering hub. A shared bathhouse includes a large sauna and rain rooms with serene views of the forest.
A small patio with two long benches flanking the entry door creates a comfortable place to cool off after a sauna. Around the corner sits a larger patio and fire pit for casual evening campfires.
Immediately adjacent is a generous circular lawn for larger events and gatherings.
The most critical component of the project was the design and construction of a variety of housing types that would accommodate the range of visitors the center hoped to attract.
Given the client’s goal of furthering personal health and wellness within a social setting, it was important to accommodate a spectrum of individual and collective experiences.
Furthermore, it was important to offer a variety of price points to cater to both older and younger generations.
The Rice Pods are the smallest and most intimate of the three housing options.
The 312 square foot one-room cabins sleep 1-2 guests and include a small kitchenette and water closet with shower.
The slightly larger 480 square-foot Nests include a separate living room with a sleeper sofa.
A set of large pocket doors allows for two private sleeping spaces when closed or a single spacious interior when open.
Each Rice Pod and Nest includes a wood-slated front porch that acts as an extension of the domestic interior space as well as a piece of social infrastructure that encourages impromptu conversations and interactions.
Given the fractured rocky ground along the bluff edge and the goal of creating an elevated, cocoon-like experience in the woods, each Rice Pod and Nest floats slightly above the ground on four pier footings, much like the dining wing of the original restaurant.
Utilities are housed within a small precast concrete box beneath the floor, allowing for an exceptionally small footprint on the site. While the Nests and Rice Pods provide more intimate and private accommodations, the Treehaus offers a more social experience for small groups or individuals on a budget.
Sited further from the bluff on frost footings, each 1,548 square-foot structure contains four lockable suites on two levels.
A generous shared living space and kitchen with elevated views of the forest cantilevers over a shared patio and entrance below.
The 22 new buildings are all clad in cedar lap siding left to age naturally. Interiors are clad in unfinished basswood locally sourced, fast-growing, sustainable species. Its light color and subtle grain allow for a modern light-filled interior while retaining the customary material warmth of the Northwoods cabin tradition.
Operable windows on each exterior wall and the skylights ensure natural light and passive ventilation from all directions.
High-performance windows were all manufactured less than 30 miles away in Ashland Wisconsin.
The use of local materials, products, and labor reduced the carbon footprint of construction while keeping the economic impact within the community.
Rather than scattering the housing units throughout the vast forested site, the structures are grouped into four linear villages surrounding the Retreat Center.
Not only did this minimize the impact on the site, but it also created efficiencies with utility work, circulation paths, and housekeeping operations.
Only 17 of the 114 acres were touched by construction.
Where the land was disturbed, evergreens, ferns, and sedges were removed and replanted around the finished structures.
Wild Rice Retreat is the first wellness center of its kind in the Midwest.
Project: Wild Rice Retreat
Architects: Salmela Architect
Lead Architect: David Salmela
Design Team: Darin Duch and Kai Salmela
Landscape Architect: Travis Van Liere Studio, LLC.
Interior Design: BKV Group