© 2011 Anice Hoachlander/Hoachlander Davis Photography

The popularity of the Crib at Strathmore and its earlier prototype, the Shack at Hinkle Farm, came as something of a pleasant surprise for Broadhurst Architects’ Jeffery Broadhurst, AIA. Born of the vernacular, this readily assembled kit of parts began as a functional solution to a finite set of needs.

“The Shack was the cheapest, simplest shelter I could design and build to entice my family out to West Virginia,” Broadhurst says of the small, finely detailed cabin. “I knew it was a neat little building, but the attention it got took me by surprise.” That building was raised above the ground to keep mice, snakes, and bears at bay while opening up to a deck for more expansive fair-weather use. “It’s a step up from tent camping,” Broadhurst explains.

The Shack attracted the attention of a client who asked for something “shack-esque” for his 27-acre property. That was when Broadhurst devised the iconic corncrib shape, which became the next iteration of an idea. Working with a fabricator, he developed a kit-of-parts system manufactured off-site for quick construction in remote areas. “The Shack was designed to be as easy to build as possible, due to my limited carpentry skills,” says Broadhurst. “But with the professionally fabricated Crib, I could experiment with different materials, such as steel bents and structural insulated panels.”

The client liked his Crib, and Broadhurst continued to develop the concept. He recently installed a prototype on the grounds of Strathmore, a cultural center and arts foundation in North Bethesda, Md., which has delighted not only CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl but also hundreds of summer concertgoers and participants in its Artists in Residence program, who display and discuss their work there.

“It was always a wonderful experience to hear people’s comments and see their faces,” Broadhurst says of that experience. “Kids would run outside and grab their parents to show them the Crib, and how big it looks on the inside. I even once heard someone say: ‘This kitchen-in-a-box in the entryway is bigger than the kitchen I had in my Manhattan apartment.’”

The Crib is now a kit-of-parts system that blends the vernacular aesthetic of the corncrib outside and the functionality of the lofted cabin inside. Taking on a life of its own, the tiny cabin became the basis of cabin kits—by Enviresponsible Shelter, the manufacturing arm for the Crib—that range from 175 to 390 square feet of interior floor area with an additional 140 square feet of exterior deck and 60 to 120 square feet of loft space.

Among the environmentally sensitive elements of the Crib are the efficient floor plan, minimal site disturbance, high insulation values, and radiant floor heating. It uses recycled and recyclable, non-finished heat-treated poplar, a rain collection system, LED and CFL lights, and abundant ventilation throughout. Plus, the entire building is readily moved and reused.

“I have fond memories of working with my father to build a log cabin in the woods,” Broadhurst says. “And I’ve always loved farm buildings with the simplicity and honesty of vernacular architecture.” The corncrib frame may seem tiny, but it gives one the feeling of having ample elbow room and packs a lot more into a small space than anyone would expect.—Douglas Gordon, Hon. AIA