For James Cutler, who works from a converted boathouse at a Bainbridge Island, Washington, marina, environmental consciousness has become the hallmark of his lifework. Whether he is designing the lavish residential compound for Microsoft mogul Bill Gates or a modest retirement home for a couple such as John and Elinor Paulk, Cutler's dwellings are studies in landscape conservation and architectural innovation.
Cutler, who grew up in a small Pennsylvania coal town and later studied at the University of Pennsylvania and with master Louis I. Kahn, surveys his sites himself. Crawling around in thickets and woodlands on his hands and knees, he has devised a number of elegant solutions to preserve trees and other landscape elements including perching houses on stilts and creating ramps over patches of forest to approach a house. For Gates, his most high-profile client, he has even managed to reestablish wetlands on the property.