In the spring of 1982, Christopher Graeff began designing a house for the Turners (Ralph, Phyllis and Ruth). The site is at an elevation just under 1000 feet on the east side of the Coast range in Yamhill County, Oregon, north of the villages of Sheridan and Willamina. The program was developed by the occupants, a couple and the mother of Ralph Turner. The program required a ‘bermed’ dwelling, of low maintenance of masonry construction, with as much exposure to sunlight as possible (in an area of much cloudiness and rain and cool summers). The apartment for Ruth Turner was to be adjacent but somewhat separate. A large square footage was more important than expensive materials.
The architect came up with the idea of a mostly underground house of concrete block and concrete and glass with a earthen roof. A large room (‘hex hall’) would protrude above the other earth sheltered part and the east and west ends would be partially exposed block. Dark tile was recommended for the floor and the whole south side of the long house (110’) would be mainly glass which would admit the sunlight. Some light wells were included over the two kitchens and the entry to bring natural light into the back of the house.
Construction began with removal of some soil down to a rocky subsoil in April 1982. Subcontracting included a block layer, a plumber, some laborers at specific times, concrete finishers window installers, and a roofer for Hex Hall. A true 8” wall was poured at the back of the house (North side), with much reinforcement and generally much concrete was included coming to over 300 cubic feet all told. Parking garage shoring of galvanized steel was used for the ceilings in all but the large room and over this was poured 8” of concrete, all in one day.
Photographs of the process were made at most stages of construction. Some volunteers and family members helped at various times.
Ruth Turner moved in to the building in 1984 and Ralph and Phyllis began sleeping in the building that year, but did not move down completely from the existing mobile home until the following year. The building was completely enclosed by 1986 but much work remained and in fact is not complete as of 2005. A solar collector was added on the ‘roof’ in 1988 to preheat the water which was also routed through the wood furnace. A geothermal furnace replaced the original wood furnace in 1995 and it often also serves to heat the water.. The dark tile floor was not installed until 2004 over the concrete subfloor. But it has been quite liveable during the 20 years between.