Located in Wisconsin’s “driftless region”, a landscape of softly rolling hills, the house develops its form out of the site’s distinct topography. The program is organized in two parallel bars that form a low-slung volume and shift against each other to create protected outdoor rooms, patios, and courtyards. The building’s roof is a meticulously detailed ribbon that peels itself up from the ground and extends the adjacent fields as a green carpet over the lower part of the house. From here, the folding roof plane slowly rises over the upper bar and turns into a dramatic cantilever protecting the vista terrace from the elements. The facade is composed of a system of wood boards and CNC-milled aluminum battens whose shifting geometry subverts the volumetric purity of the house itself.
Situated on a seam between the National Mall and the dense urbanity of downtown D.C., the Plaza to the Forgotten War commemorates the service of World War I American forces by creating a place that devotedly holds onto the memory of the tragic losses endured by the United States throughout the course of the war.
A steadfast grid of 1,166 illuminated bronze markers, one for every hundred U.S. deaths in the war, immediately conveys the scale of these losses in a seemingly endless expanse created by gently folded landforms. While resolving the complicated sloping boundaries of the site, these landforms also generate a series of vertically terraced urban spaces that heighten individuals’ awareness of their relationship to others. Allées of distinguished red oaks and somber paper birch trees unite to create metered spatial definitions buffering the plaza from the noise of the surrounding environment while maintaining open and inviting views through the site. Visitors can at once find places of respite while sharing in a collective sense of remembrance.
The use of bronze extends to a colonnade of memorial pillars that lines the plaza’s main pedestrian boulevard. Capturing a sense of the cold metal-clad machines responsible for much of the war’s destruction, the cast bronze ages beautifully to register the memorial with the centennial remembrance of World War I. Elevated by these bronze pillars stand a series of cast glass monoliths inscribed with text that recollects a comprehensive historical account of the United States’ involvement in the war. The words, glistening from water that trickles down the core of each pillar, will illuminate current and future generations about the conflict’s legacy and the great sacrifices made by Americans on the battlefields and at home.
This small house for a graphic designer and her husband sits on the heavily wooded eastern shore of Wisconsin’s Door County, a narrow peninsula on Lake Michigan. Embedded in a dense forest of deciduous and coniferous trees, the building’s unassuming volume is quietly nestled in a small clearing at the western edge of the gently sloping site, its low-slung silhouette virtually disappearing in the surrounding vegetation. The building’s restrained exterior material palette is limited to charred cedar siding from Northern Wisconsin, its textured, somber blackness complemented by varnished clear cedar, dark-anodized aluminum, and glass. Echoing the visual depth and surface oscillations of bark covering the trunks of trees, the charred wood boards were installed over furring strips of varying depths to form a gently folding, undulating building skin, not unlike a pleated curtain – a meandering and highly faceted veil that wraps the house and replaces what could have been a conventional, sharply defined perimeter with a more ambiguous boundary, one that softens the building’s rigorous geometry and moderates the transition from artificial construct to natural context. A narrow gravel road leads to a small, trellised forecourt carved deep into the home’s rectangular building mass, a tapered space whose forced perspective converges at the glazed vestibule and continues into a recessed covered outdoor room on the opposite side, framing views through the house and into the site’s sylvan landscape. A continuous wall of milled lumber, stacked at slight angles and finished with a lustrous varnish to create a highly tactile surface of folding ribbons, extends from the forecourt into the house and visually anchors the entry sequence. Inside, the vestibule connects to an open living space with an oversized sliding glass door system that provides access to a linear patio, its paved plane slightly sunken into the existing topography and contained by a long, illuminated concrete bench running parallel to the house. Across from the large sliding doors, a delicate sculptural steel staircase, supported by a filigree of vertical rods, anchors the living space and leads to the upper bedroom suite and the expansive vegetated roof covering the main building volume. Contrasting the building’s dark exterior shell, the interior material palette is dominated by white walls, white lacquered cabinets, and a grey polished concrete floor, all forming a deliberately neutral, serene backdrop against which the ever-changing tableau of the foliage outside can unfold.
This modest, 880 square-foot cabin for a young family sits at the edge of a small clearing, its compact volume nestled into the densely wooded hillside in a remote Wisconsin forest.
The tight budget required a rigorously simple structure. In order to minimize the building’s footprint and take advantage of the sloped site, the horizontally organized components of a traditional cabin compound – typically an open-plan longhouse with communal living space, an outhouse, and a freestanding toolshed – were reconfigured and stacked vertically. The bottom level, carved into the hill and accessible from the clearing, houses a small workshop, equipment storage, and a washroom, providing the infrastructural base for the living quarters above. A wood-slatted entry door opens to stairs that lead up to the open living hall centered around a wood-burning stove and bracketed by a simple galley kitchen and a pair of small, open sleeping rooms.
Floor-to-ceiling curtains on either end of the living hall can be moved or retracted, their undulating fabric and delicate texture adding a sensual dimension to the crisp interior palette. Depending on their arrangement, the curtains can provide privacy for the sleeping rooms, open them up to the main living space, or screen the kitchen when not in use. Large-scale lift-slide apertures along the sides of the living hall offer extensive views of the forest and direct access to an informal hillside terrace. In the summer, the apertures become screened openings, virtually transforming the living hall into a covered outdoor room and facilitating a high degree of cross-ventilation that eliminates the need for mechanical conditioning. A small study, originally conceived as another room adjacent to the living hall, was instead stacked on top of it, creating an intimate, elevated observatory with treetop views.
The meticulously detailed project takes advantage of readily available materials used in the region’s farmstead architecture. On the outside, exposed concrete, cedar, anodized metal, and cementitious plaster all echo the muted, earthy hues of the surrounding forest and rock formations. The material palette extends to the inside, where integrally colored polished concrete floors on the two main levels provide sufficiently durable surfaces against the periodic abuse from cross country skies, dogs, and muddy hiking boots. Walls, ceilings, and built-in cabinets are painted white, lightening up the interiors during the long winter months and providing a quiet, neutral foreground against which nature’s complex and ever-changing tableau, carefully framed by the cabin’s large openings, can unfold.
A compact home for a textile artist and her young family, the Redaction House sits on a narrow sliver of land on a small suburban lake, surrounded by prosaic spec homes crowding the shoreline. The building, a simple wood cube on a stepped brick podium carved into the sloping site, is deliberately introvert, functioning as an optic filter that frames the limited lake vista while strategically editing out views of the built-up context.
A series of spatial voids carved into the building volume organize the program, starting with a linear entry courtyard along a brick wall whose decreasing perforation begins the process of visual redaction and leads to the transparent front door. Inside, floor-to-ceiling apertures alternate with solid walls, taking advantage of sightlines that are desirable and screen those that are not. The rooms are grouped around a two-story living hall, where the apertures are stacked vertically to frame views of the sky and the bluff’s deciduous foliage.
The wood cube is clad in horizontal cedar, complemented by vertical cedar between the deeply recessed apertures. Here, narrow painted boards create an unexpected filigree of colors, a subtle nod at the polychrome threads in the fiber artist’s own work.
An unassuming structure embedded in Wisconsin’s rural landscape, this intimate retreat serves as a studio for a Country Western musician to write and record his music. With its formal discipline, exacting details, and a carefully restrained material palette, the building, while unapologetically contemporary, continues the tradition of Midwestern pastoral architecture and its proud legacy of aesthetic sobriety, functional lucidity and robust craftsmanship.
A concrete podium, carved into a steep hill to provide storage space, supports a simple rectangular volume, a linear studio space whose long sides are covered by a weathering steel shroud. Oversized glazed openings at each end of the studio provide access into the space and out onto the vegetated roof of the storage plinth, carefully framing views of the picturesque surroundings. The steel shroud cantilevers over the edge of the studio volume to create a covered porch, a sheltered outdoor extension of the interior studio space. Along its edges, the shroud is slightly lifted off the concrete plinth, teasingly exposing a narrow, diaphanous clerestory that allows the studio volume to seemingly float above its base. During the day, the clerestory provides natural light for the storage space below; at night, it emits its soft, ominous glow into the dark landscape.
The building materials – exposed concrete and steel, glass, and wood – were locally sourced and chosen for their ability to age gracefully over time. The carefully detailed steel envelope, its warm color of ferrous corrosion echoing the hues of the derelict machinery left behind in the area’s abandoned farm fields, turns the building skin into an ever-changing canvas. Alloy imperfections, surface oils, and roller marks from the steel mill all leave their individual traces as the material weathers, juxtaposing the building’s strict geometry and formal restraint with a stubbornly unpredictable veneer.
The O-S House is a small infill residence in Racine, Wisconsin, a rustbelt city epitomizing the painful urban decline of Middle America’s manufacturing centers. Commissioned by a young family, the project is one of the first LEED Platinum homes in the Upper Midwest and demonstrates how a small, sustainable residence built with a moderate budget can become a confident, new urban constituent, a harbinger of change in a city suffering from decades of economic stagnation and urban disinvestment.
Volume I Envelope: Located in an old downtown neighborhood, the 1,900 SF house occupies a narrow infill lot along the edge of Lake Michigan, completing a row of residences built over the last century. Based on massing studies testing the building’s performance in relation to site constraints, program, accessibility to sunlight, shading, stormwater management, and vegetation, the building is a simple rectangular volume that mediates between the three-story mansion to the north and the mid-century ranch to the south. Unlike the opaque masses of the adjacent homes, the main level glazing allows for a visual connection between street and lake. Portions of the compact mass were removed to create a number of outdoor rooms – an open entry court, elevated patios accessible from the upper level, and a shaded main level terrace, all confined within the boundaries of the rectangular volume itself. The upper portion of the house is wrapped in a rainscreen of thin concrete panels suspended between a pair of horizontal steel channels, creating an 8” deep ventilated envelope with superior protection from the elements. Along the edges of the outdoor rooms, the façade system transforms into a delicate scrim of thin aluminum rods, subtly defining the spatial boundaries of these spaces without obstructing any views. A series of floor-to-ceiling apertures penetrate the façade system, their bright colors an unapologetic nod to the cheerful polychrome of the neighborhood’s Victorian homes.
Organization: The main entry facing the street is marked by a small courtyard, bracketed by a glazed vestibule on one side and the dining room on the other. The vestibule connects to a kitchen overlooking the open living area, generously glazed to frame expansive views of the lake and into the neighborhood. A series of sliding glass doors provide access to a large terrace with permeable pavers, allowing the relatively compact living hall to expand to the outside during the summer. A central staircase adjacent to the one-car garage and bike storage leads to the upper level, where three bedrooms share a bathroom and have access to the rooftop patios at the building corners. The stairs terminate in a small study cantilevering over the edge of the house, offering stunning lake views.
Sustainability: The ventilated rainscreen is an integral part of the envelope, achieving a minimum R-value of 35 with the use of soy-based closed-cell foam insulation. Energy-Star rated windows with high-efficiency glazing provide a relatively high level of transparency without compromising the overall performance of the envelope. The compact form of the house allows for a high level of natural ventilation and reduces the need for artificial light. The house is designed to operate off the grid throughout most of the year. Power is generated by photovoltaic laminates adhered directly to the roofing membrane, and by an additional, freestanding PV array; excess energy is fed back into the power grid. A deep-well geothermal system provides heating and cooling and supplements the output of the solar water heater. A re-circulating hot water system and low-flow fixtures reduce water consumption to a minimum. Stormwater is partially harvested or diverted into raingardens, where it can slowly percolate into the ground; exterior hard surfaces such as driveway, the entry path, and terrace utilize permeable pavers.
The Nexus House, a compact residence for a young family of four, occupies a small vacant lot in Madison’s University Heights neighborhood, a designated historic district in the city center with iconic homes by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Keck & Keck, and many others. Successfully contesting the local preservation ordinance whose strict guidelines advocated stylistic mimicry while failing to recognize the neighborhood’s rich architectural diversity, we designed a quiet but unapologetically contemporary building. Its formally restrained volume is discreetly placed in the back of the trapezoidal site, where it avoids direct visual competition with its two dignified neighbors – a hundred-year old Spanish Colonial home and the Ely House from 1896, a cherished landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 1,980 sf house is composed of two principal building blocks: a two-story brick podium partially embedded in the site’s existing slope; and a linear cedar-clad meander that wraps up and over the podium before transforming into a cantilever, its overhang providing shade for the south-facing main level patio. Following this binary parti, the home’s “public” functions – garage, support rooms, and an open living hall – are located in the brick base, while its “private” spaces – upper level bedrooms, baths, and a small reading room – are housed in the cedar volume.
Exterior steps lead up the slope to the home’s front door, a glazed recess with a delicate steel canopy marking the vertical joint between the two distinct building blocks. The glass entry door opens into a small foyer that leads into the main living hall, an open space for cooking, eating, and sitting, where a series of floor-to-ceiling windows offer arriving guests expansive, carefully framed views into the neighborhood. The deliberately neutral interiors of the living hall are complemented by a troika of dark-stained wood objects that anchor the open space: a small entertainment center; a fireplace and chimney; and a wood wall and canopy cradling an intimate side lounge, which can be separated from the living hall with large pocket doors to serve as a guest bedroom or quiet study. Stairs lead up to the upper level and terminate in a small reading lounge shared by the adjacent three bedrooms.
The carefully restrained exterior material palette is limited to brick and wood. Manufactured in Wisconsin, the elongated Norman brick with horizontally raked mortar joints complements the flush horizontal cedar siding sourced from the state’s northern forests. Together, the saturated dark purple of the ironspot brick and the natural warmth of the sealed wood siding add an unexpected polychrome to the formally disciplined building mass, a subtle nod at the bold colors of the neighborhood’s Victorian homes.
The Camouflage House sits on a steep lake bluff, its narrow, linear volume nestled into the hillside. Approaching the house from the rugged access road weaving through the site’s heavily wooded plateau, the building’s faint, low-slung silhouette virtually disappears in the surrounding vegetation. With its precisely detailed exterior wood skin and interior wood paneling, the house achieves an elegant clarity and rustic warmth that nevertheless avoids bucolic sentimentality.
Materiality: Informed by careful conceptual studies of the most striking features of the context, a complex system of façade layers wraps around the building’s geometrically disciplined volume. Throughout the house, the superimposition of natural and man-made wood components – natural cedar, resin-based wood veneer panels, glue-laminated posts and beams, exposed MDF paneling – illustrates the wide range of aesthetic and functional characteristics of wood, celebrating the material’s inherent tensions between durability and temporality, perfection and imperfection, nature and technology. The base façade layer is clad in untreated vertical cedar and serves as the backdrop for a series of polychromatic wood veneer resin panels that reverberate the ever-changing hues of the surrounding deciduous trees. The panels overlap with the strict base grid of the building’s exposed structural columns, echoing the rhythmic shift between tree trunks as one moves through the forest. Over time, the cedar walls will weather to a silver-gray, while the wood veneer panels will retain their original color and pristine finish.
Interiors: The inside of the house, while unapologetically contemporary, continues Wisconsin’s long history of lake cottage architecture, which has traditionally featured exposed timber construction, interior wood siding, combined living and dining halls centered around a fireplace, and a limited palette of natural materials. Meticulously detailed, the entire entry level of the Camouflage House is clad with clear-sealed MDF panels, held apart by reveals that accentuate the structural rhythm of the house and align with the exposed engineered wood beams above.
Organization: From the small clearing of the entry court, the low roof plane of the open breezeway connecting house and garage leads to a linear, glazed foyer that penetrates the two-story bar building and terminates into a partially covered balcony with spectacular views of the lake. Stairs connect to the lower level, which is fully exposed on the lake side and houses all bedrooms, providing access to the zero-edge bluff terrace that stretches along the entire length of the building and to the master bedroom “grotto,” an intimate outdoor space between the western edge of the house and the site’s imposing rock formation. On the upper level, kitchen, dining and living functions occupy an open space that can extend into the adjacent spacious screen porch by retracting the large, foldable glass door system separating the two. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the screen porch functions as the home’s lung, taking advantage of the mild lake breezes.
Structure: The main volume of the house is a simple post-and-beam structure based on a strict 48” o.c. baseline. The exposed glue-laminated roof beams are supported by 4x6 wood posts. 2x6 stud walls fill in the structural frame and provide lateral strength. 1 1/8” thick plywood spans between the roof beams and cantilevers over the building edge to allow for an exceptionally thin roof line.
Sustainability: The design is based on a set of sustainable components and materials to minimize the building’s environmental impact. The specified lumber products are native and sourced locally, or are FSC-certified, depending on their availability. Walls achieve an R-30 insulation value with soy-based expanding foam insulation, and all windows are Energy-Star rated. Roofing membranes contain recycled rubber. Throughout the house, low-VOC sealers and paints were specified. The concrete used for foundations and for the exposed floors and walls has a high fly ash content.
The Ferrous House is the careful, sustainable reinvention of a prototypically ill-conceived suburban production home at the end of its life cycle. This project challenges the ordinary but environmentally irresponsible tabula rasa approach – tear down and build bigger – and offers a sensible alternative, illustrating how the bones of a dysfunctional building can be reclaimed as the framework for a contemporary, precisely detailed dwelling. The project is a case study for a resource-conscious suburban renewal in a time of economic and ecological distress.
Concept: Located in a subdivision west of Milwaukee, the existing 1,300sf structure, a dark house with minimal fenestration, had been fallen into disrepair. While the project brief asked for a radical aesthetic and spatial metamorphosis, the severely limited construction budget, and the client’s environmental awareness, commanded the reuse of major elements of the existing building, including the foundations, main perimeter walls, and plumbing stacks. The interior was gutted and re-organized to create open, interconnected spaces. Linear cedar-clad storage boxes, containing built-in closet systems and living room cabinetry, cantilever over the edge of the building and add desperately needed square footage without altering the original footprint of the house. A new shed roof, supported by a filigree of exposed metal and wood trusses, adds height to the living spaces and allows northern light to wash the inside of the house through a long band of translucent, aerogel-filled polycarbonate glazing. At night, the window band radiates its warm light into the distance, subtly evoking the iconic clerestory glow of the dairy barns that once dotted the region.
Organization: In a carefully choreographed new entry sequence, wide exterior stairs run along the front of the house and lead up to a small glazed porch. From here, stairs weave through the house and terminate in a small observatory above the new roof plane. The building’s simple rectangular volume is wrapped on three sides with a weathering steel rainscreen, its warm color of ferrous corrosion echoing the hues of the derelict farm equipment left behind on the area’s abandoned pastures. In the back, the steel wrapper extends beyond the edge of the building and shelters the sides of a linear south-facing patio and a screen porch, which is accessible from the living hall through a fully retractable folding glass door system. In the summer, the living hall expands into the screen porch, transforming into the building’s “green lung” that draws in the cool breeze from the nearby woods and naturally conditions the house.
Sustainability: Throughout the building, sustainable systems and materials were specified, including low-VOC paints and stains, recycled steel, high-efficiency mechanical systems, Energy Star-rated windows, and locally sourced woods. High-endurance “Vaproshield” wall membranes and high-efficiency cellular insulation complement the ventilated perimeter rainscreen façade system, one of the best performing building skin assemblies available. The aerogel-filled clerestory has an R-value exceeding that of regular insulating glass by 90% and minimizes the need for artificial light.
Overlooking the Milwaukee River, this bar is located in a small space carved out of an unexceptional commercial development on the southern edge of downtown. In an effort to counteract the sterility of the building’s cheap, antiseptic finishes, we designed an interior space with a high level of tactility, visual complexity, and drama. A deeply textured wood slat wall, echoing the enigmatic undulation of heavy stage curtains, leads from the building lobby into the bar area before it wraps overhead and cradles the mezzanine, where it transforms into a screen for intimate upper level seating. The rhythmic modulations of the wood slats, reinforced by a series of thin structural steel columns supporting the mezzanine, forms the backdrop for a continuous ribbon of back-lit, custom-fabricated cellular plastic panels weaving through the two-story space. Rising up from the main level bar, the ribbon runs above the main lounge seating before wrapping down again to form a small stage for nightly bands. Spatially, the light ribbon normalizes the skewed geometry of the room and ties together the programmatic elements on both levels. In addition, it consolidates and veils the bar’s entire technical infrastructure, avoiding the mechanical clutter that so often compromises the purity of commercial spaces. Atmospherically, the ribbon’s deep red color washes the entire space with a sensuous incandescence, creating an ambiance for unapologetic aesthetic indulgence. At night, the Downtown Bar emits its mysterious glow through a series of large custom sliding doors into Milwaukee’s somber nights, subtly marking the resurgence of this downtown neighborhood.
Project Statement: The client approached us to generate ideas for the 1,500 square foot blacktop roof above his loft in a renovated 1920s warehouse, the Parts House, on Milwaukee’s Southside. The program asked for an outdoor living room flexible enough to allow for intimate dinners as well as large social events, a place providing seclusion for sunbathing or, alternately, protection from the sun and western winds, without compromising the stunning views of the city. Working with a limited budget of $56,000, we designed an open air pavilion of shop-fabricated trellis-like steel members supporting a curtain of sliding steel frames sheathed with polychromatic transparent and translucent plastic. Depending on their arrangement, the panels provide various levels of privacy or exposure, offer shelter, and act as picture frame and color filter: looking outward from the roof, different color combinations shift the views of the city, framing the skyline and changing Milwaukee’s somber skies to shades of yellow, red, and blue. At night, with the help of a sophisticated lighting system, the illuminated panels transform into a phantasmagoria of colors and shadows, highly visible from Milwaukee’s main freeway artery rushing nearby. The roof pavilion has become a neighborhood beacon, an extraordinary public spectacle and a symbol of urban vitality. It exemplifies how a small-scale urban intervention can have a major impact on its larger-scale environment.
Context: Located in the middle of a blue-collar neighborhood ripped apart by a freeway and a declining Rust Belt economy, the roof pavilion is part of an intriguing mix of contrasting urban constituents, a typological Noah’s Arc: dense blocks of workers’ cottages, corner bars, abandoned factories, churches, boat yards, and swaths of empty land. Interaction between the private realm of the roof pavilion and this diverse urban setting was paramount. From the rooftop, the surrounding city views change each time the panels are re-arranged. From the street, the pavilion serves as an iconic sculpture, a non-commercial billboard that illuminates the otherwise dark Southside skyline.
Constructability: The roof pavilion consists of a simple steel superstructure consisting of shop-assembled elements and extending the structural logic of the existing building beyond the roof plane. This structural framework serves two major functions. On one hand, as a seemingly integral part of the existing warehouse, it defines spatial boundaries for the patio. On the other hand, it supports the curtain of movable panels and resists the considerable wind forces to which the panels are exposed, in order to create a livable outdoor environment 65 feet up in the air.
Flexibility: The curtain of sliding panels allows for an almost unlimited number of spatial and atmospherical settings. The panels can be arranged to screen either the entirety or merely portions of the patio, depending on the desired use, weather, or time of the day, while simultaneously defining a variety of spaces. The polychromatic spectrum of the panels enables the client to utilize the colors appropriate for the occasion. At night, the lit panels provide the right ambiance for a cocktail party. Meanwhile, on a cloudy day, the bright-colored panels may function as a mood enhancer. In addition, the pavilion’s trellis panels over portions of the patio offer another level of spatial definition and can be supplemented with retractable canvases for enhanced overhead screening.
This urban residence with commanding views of Milwaukee’s skyline occupies 2,600sf on the top floor of a former cold storage facility. The program of the home was organized in three parallel zones. A long living hall, flooded with natural light and bracketed by an open kitchen on one end and a generous sun room on the other, occupies the first, most public zone. Two narrow floor-to-ceiling cabinet towers anchor the linear space and incorporate storage, art niches, wine racks, and A/V equipment as well as the home’s fireplace while creating more intimate areas for dining, lounging, and sitting.
The second zone is occupied by a series of flex spaces separated from the living hall by 8’ square translucent sliding panels that can be completely retracted. Depending on the panels’ position, these flex rooms can be totally separated from the living hall or completely connected to it to serve either as private bedrooms, dens or media rooms, or to provide additional gathering space for larger social events. The translucent panels allow daylight to penetrate deep into the unit, illuminating areas that otherwise would have no access to natural light. Conversely, the panels transform into enigmatic canvases when lit from behind, their blurred projections subtly revealing glimpses of life unfolding in the adjacent rooms.
The third spatial layer contains the home’s most private functions, including a spacious master bath, walk-in closets, storage space, and other back-of-the house functions. “Landlocked” deep inside the building because of existing plumbing shafts, the walls and floor of the cavernous bathroom space are lined with thin stacked stone tiles, their horizontal format alluding to geological strata. In the center of the bathroom, the floor plane folds up to create a raised plinth for the tub. Floating above the plinth, an open bamboo frame serves as vanity and spatial device that organizes the room into distinct but interconnected areas. Within the bamboo frame, a pair of suspended two-sided mirrors forms the backdrop for simple vessel sinks, altering the perception of the bathroom’s actual boundaries while allowing views to the other side of the space.
Salve is a small canteen serving the cooks, janitors, and maids of the Pfister, Milwaukee’s premier Grand Hotel, an ornate masonry structure in the city center built in 1893 by a prominent tannery baron. Located deep in the subterranean belly of this Romanesque Revival monolith and without any access to daylight, the 960 SF cafeteria was carved out of a cluttered maze of small residual spaces previously occupied by storage closets, abandoned mechanical equipment, and provisional break rooms. Benefitting a community of workers at the bottom of the economic food chain, this modest back-of-the-house project demonstrates the transformative power that architecture can have, regardless of scope or budget limitations.
We designed a simple perimeter wrapper that weaves around existing massive foundation columns and conceals the basement’s ubiquitous mechanical and structural clutter, tying together the fragmented spaces and transforming them into a quiet dining room whose modest elegance offers a welcome respite from the hotel’s Victorian opulence. Throughout the space, carefully positioned “history apertures” – deep acrylic-sheathed frames – penetrate Salve’s clean perimeter wall to peel away and expose hidden layers of the hotel’s past. Quarried masonry foundations, iron pipes, old furring strips, cracked plaster walls, paint spills and water stains from previous leaks: laid bare and subtly illuminated, these historic traces become artifacts, constructing an eloquent narrative of the building’s structural and aesthetic DNA. Transforming the canteen into an informal archeological gallery, the apertures become windows into the past, their warm incandescence washing the space in warm light.
Entering Salve from the busy corridor that runs along the hotel’s main kitchen, a wall with floor-to-ceiling supergraphics folds into a linear food service zone and leads to a 21’ long harvest table in the center of the space, a linear communal table under a wooden ceiling canopy inviting employees to share their meals in larger groups. Alternatively, workers may prefer to sit in the more intimate niches created by the undulations of the perimeter wrapper.
The Kadish Amphitheater is a small multifunctional bandshell pavilion nestled in bucolic Kadish Park overlooking downtown Milwaukee.
The building consists of a simple folded concrete band with a secure cedar-clad locker box, providing shade and protection from rain and transforming from open air stage to silver screen by retracting sliding panels along the back edge. Instead of permanently blocking the hillside vista of downtown, the concrete ribbon creates a picture frame, capturing views of Milwaukee’s skyline and Lake Michigan. Looking up to the pavilion from the street at the bottom of the hill, the folded concrete band frames the idyllic landscape and sky on top of the hill. The pavilion was designed as a flexible structure accommodating a variety of events, including concerts, neighborhood gatherings, and movies. Even when not actively programmed, the white structure becomes a permanent folly in the park, a sculptural object in the best tradition of Milwaukee’s park architecture. Its folded form offers a variety of formal gestures, depending on the direction from which you approach it, and is based on a series of simple folds of an in-situ concrete slab, an economic and durable material with superb sculptural characteristics. The building is supplemented by the cedar-clad locker, a secure storage box that houses the stage infrastructure and as well as the sliding backdrop panels.
A small architectural intervention embedded in the spatial vacuum of suburbia, the Layton Pavilion functions as a gatehouse connecting a large strip mall parking lot and a walled-in, undevelopable brownfield site used as a provisional public green space along a busy suburban intersection. Working with a limited stipend, we designed a simple cast-in-place concrete pavilion, a skim-coated apron that hovers over the southwest corner of the brownfield site and marks the link between the two spaces. The crisp, austere form, its unapologetic blackness a stark contrast to the beige cheerfulness of its surroundings, creates an unexpected sense of gravitas in the weightless monotony of the suburban landscape.
Surrounded by an abundance of aesthetic timidity and literally leading from nowhere to nowhere, the pavilion itself becomes the destination, a reinterpretation of the archetypal folly in the park that offers a series of basic visceral and corporeal experiences rarely found in this context: the sudden spatial compression when entering; the controlled framing of views and vistas, through slits, walls, and roof; an occupiable object carefully scaled to be encountered by walking people, not speeding cars; the polished concrete planes, their tangible solidity and material authenticity a peculiar exception in an environment dominated by the antiseptic shallowness of thin veneers. The linear raingarden located below the roof edge allows stormwater to percolate into the ground, its native prairie grasses a welcome reprieve from the surrounding sea of asphalt.
Spatiality, scale, materiality – the Layton Pavilion reintroduces these fundamental concepts to the experientially impoverished realm of the urban periphery. Empty and ominous as it sits in the middle of the suburban void, it serves as a quiet monument to the richness of the human condition.
Urban Infill 01 is the first in a series of prototypical production homes for blighted urban infill sites in Milwaukee’s central city. The design had to be adaptable to different lot dimensions, and flexible enough to function as a single family residence, or, alternatively, as a two-family duplex. Urban Infill 01, the first built prototype configured as a duplex, sits on a 30’-wide lot that the client bought from the City for $3,000, in a neighborhood that has seen its share of economic disinvestment and continues to suffer from three decades of urban decay. Working with a limited budget, we designed a simple bar building made up of three interlocking components: a cedar-clad box for the entry and vertical circulation; a stucco box, assembled from standardized stud wall panels, for up to 1,900 SF of living space; and a concrete veneer wall that peels away from the house and transforms into a free-standing, perforated garden wall. In the front, the garden wall repairs the street edge of the existing urban fabric, something the narrow shotgun building – only 16 feet wide – could not have accomplished on its own. Alongside the building, the garden wall defines a semi-private trellised courtyard – a virtual extension of the first floor living hall, whose large glass doors allow it to expand sideways and utilize the courtyard as an outdoor living room. On the upper level, an oversized picture window unit provides spectacular views of the city and, at night, turns into a bright lantern for the otherwise dim neighborhood street. Similarly, the openings in the garden wall frame views of the neighborhood, but also provide glimpses from the street into the courtyard, subtly blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, between totally public and totally private. Urban Infill 01 demonstrates how a modest, low-budget project can become a confident, new urban constituent; it exemplifies how the battered fabric of a neglected neighborhood can be mended, one house at a time. Completed in early 2005, the project won a National AIA Housing Design Award that same year, the first such recognition for a residential project in Wisconsin.
Urban Infill 02 is the second of a series of affordable prototypical production homes designed for small urban infill lots in Milwaukee’s central city. Located in a neighborhood that has seen its share of economic disinvestment and continues to suffer from three decades of urban decay, this 3-bedroom, 1,600 sf model home, designed with a severely limited budget of $84/sf, consists of two interlocking building blocks, a compact two-story wood cube and a single-story concrete block bar. The cube, clad with grooved Okume panels, is based on a strict 48” module to maximize the use of standard sheet good, allowing the builder to easily adapt the footprint to various lot dimensions and program sizes.
Ribbons of alternating windows and fiber cement louvers with a high-gloss finish wrap around the corners of the cube and frame views of the neighborhood. The placement of the windows can shift within the ribbons to capture views or allow for levels of privacy, depending on different contextual conditions. The concrete bar shelters the private functions on the main level, including the master suite. If necessary, the concrete bar can be extended, pulled away from the cube, or moved to the other side of the house, all without changing the basic set of construction details. A set of delicate steel brackets ties the two volumes together and spatially defines the semi-private, south-facing roof terrace accessible from the upper level, maximizing the amount of outdoor space on this tight urban parcel. Urban Infill 02 demonstrates how a modest, low-budget project can become a confident, new urban constituent; it exemplifies how the battered fabric of a neglected neighborhood can be mended, one house at a time.
As the harbinger of a large-scale development slated for LEED certification, the Palomar Welcome Center utilizes an abandoned one-story warehouse building on the edge of Milwaukee’s Park East redevelopment corridor. The area, an urban desert formerly occupied by an underused freeway spur, is slated to be transformed into the Palomar District, a series of mixed-use projects that will connect downtown to the adjacent neighborhoods. The Welcome Center itself includes a public lounge, offices, a gallery, and a model residence - an interactive hub to connect investors, business owners and residents with each other and present the urban vision for the area to the general public.
A long translucent glass scrim with supergraphic etching wraps the windowless face of the existing brick building, creating an elegant, immaterial facade that transcends the distinction between building and signage. Illuminated from behind with off-the-shelf fluorescent strip lights, the scrim transforms the building into an urban Laterna Magica, a beacon projecting its message of change into the neighborhood poised for a renaissance. The south-facing scrim also creates a thermal buffer for the building, reducing the solar impact on the building envelope during the summer while providing an additional protective layer in colder months.
The Palomar Welcome Center was designed around a palette of sustainable and recyclable materials, including bamboo flooring, locally quarried stone and locally harvested woods as well as low-VOC paints. More importantly, the project presents a sustainable alternative to the resource-intensive tabula rasa approach that still dominates contemporary architectural production, demonstrating how the bones of an obsolete structure can be recycled into an exciting new urban constituent.
Visitors enter the Welcome Center through a frameless glass vestibule and walk into a public gallery, an open space with three zones defined by ceiling bands suspended from the exposed roof trusses. The first one, an illuminated wood ribbon, leads from the entry into the gallery, where it turns down to transform into the backdrop for the information desk. The second band marks a seating zone for informal gatherings, taking advantage of the linear masonry fireplace that anchors the open space. The third band defines a conference room that can be closed off from the gallery by a set of large sliding glass panels; when the panels are completely retracted behind the masonry hearth, the meeting room becomes an integral part of the gallery space. The gallery also offers access to a model apartment to demonstrate the sustainable features of the development’s residential portion. All offices are organized along the building’s east wall, where they have access to natural light and air. The rest of the original building is used as a warehouse and staging area for contractors involved in the construction of the project.
Carefully sited on a heavily wooded bluff, the 2,700 sf residence for a very private couple and their occasional guests is organized as a thin one-story bar building with a simple roof that sits parallel to the bluff. Two 16-foot wide apertures with custom mahogany and glass sliding doors puncture the unassuming, nearly opaque volume of the house, opening up views of the site and Lake Michigan beyond as you arrive in the entry court.
A trellised walk, lifted slightly off the ground, anchors the house to the site; it weaves through the tree trunks and leads to the 8-foot wide pivoting entry door. The continuous trellis beams penetrate the glass-roofed entry foyer, then wrap around the other side of the house over an elevated patio before forming the exposed structure of the living hall ceiling, thus subtly blurring the boundaries between inside and outside. A small second-story observatory with floor-to-ceiling glass walls on two sides offers the residents an intimate setting to survey their property from an elevated perspective. The garage, connected to the main house by a narrow utility wing, features a thin roof plain hovering above a continuous polycarbonate clerestory band. At night, the clerestory functions as a lantern whose enigmatic glow is visible from the distant road, softly illuminating the entry court and the surrounding landscape as the iconic address sign of the house.
The materials, textures and hues of the house – cedar, concrete, steel, cementboard– and the carefully crafted details of the house echo the simple elegance and pragmatic beauty of the area’s rural architecture. Deep vertical battens establish a rigorous tectonic rhythm that organizes the building’s entire façade, transforming it into an undulating yet highly structured canvas for the shadows of the surrounding trees. Inside and outside, sustainable materials were specified, such as recycled steel roofing, reclaimed wood flooring, concrete block from a local manufacturer, low-VOC paint, native woods and ironwood from managed forests. The house was located on the site with minimal impact on the existing vegetation. In the summer, dense birch groves to the east and south form a natural canopy protecting the house from the sun; the narrow footprint of the house maximizes the use of natural daylight and facilitates cross-ventilation, thus minimizing the need for air conditioning. In the winter, the large west-facing glass skylight functions as a natural heater, capturing sunlight from noon until sunset, thereby reducing heating levels throughout the long Wisconsin winters.
This project offers an architecturally rigorous and environmentally sustainable solution for a private residence in a rural context.
Transcending the notion of one central “common green”, this proposal for a multi-unit infill housing development in Eastern Portland, OR, envisions a web of interconnected two-story homes and intimate courtyard spaces, creating a spatially engaging, sustainable neighborhood. The 12 buildings are based on a kit of prefabricated components, including precast concrete, wood veneer rainscreen panels, and high-efficiency glazing. Green roofs create an extensive topographic roofscape accessible from the homes below. The buildings extend down into a partially submerged parking plinth, where bamboo groves rise from sunken rain gardens absorbing rainwater runoff. Openings in the plinth provide daylight and ventilation for the parking pods and allow the tall bamboo to grow up into the courtyards above. The 12 homes can be configured and combined to allow for a variety of unit sizes, ranging from 530 to 1,890 SF each. Buildings cover a total area of 6,960 SF, or about 41% of the site.
Hometta, a collaborative web venture that offers modern house plans for sale, approached Johnsen Schmaling Architects to design a small protorypical home that could be constructed in various parts of the country and easily modified to respond to particular site constraints.
House ONE offers a functionally flexible plan adaptable to a broad spectrum of contexts. Composed of a simple yet well choreographed form and material palette, House ONE demonstrates how a small house can achieve a high level of spatial complexity with economic means.
The main level of the two-story house is a compact rectangular open living area with access to a full-width exterior garden terrace and connection to the single car garage. A central two-sided hearth spatially anchors the main living spaces and defines the primary entryway that carves into the house. On the upper level, two bedroom suites occupy the dramatic cantilevered bar that provides shelter to the terrace below, as well as a balcony framing panoramic views of the surrounding landscape or neighborhood.
House ONE is conceived to take advantage of conventional residential assembly techniques, systems, and local trades, or more appropriately, efficient panelized systems minimizing on-site construction time and maximizing resource utilization. Configuration options available include a one or two car attached garage or carport, vegetated roof or photovoltaic solar roof laminates, partial basement level or slab-on-grade, and screened-in garden terrace porch.
Context: The proposed housing prototype exemplifies how a componentized building can play a vital role in a neighborhood’s renaissance. Based on a kit of premanufactured parts, the building mediates between the street and the sculpture park, creating visually connections between the two sides and defining their edges with an ever-changing façade of folding screen panels that provide various levels of privacy and serve as a protective layer against the sun and strong winds. The height of the building responds to the context, as does its materiality: the warm colors of the woods and weathering steel complement the area’s brick buildings and proudly echo the industrial past of the neighborhood.
Modular Construction: The off-site fabrication of all major building components creates a simple system that reduces waste and construction time and facilitates a highly flexible framework for different types of dwelling units. Precast concrete panels with integral plumbing chases support a system of engineered wood beams, forming the building’s primary structural skeleton that accepts the pre-assembled sandwiched floor/ceiling panels with an integral electrical grid for in-floor receptacles and ceiling light fixtures. Selecting from a palette of prefabricated exterior infill panels and based on the unit plan, an occupant can chose the degree of transparency of the individual unit.
Green Building: Sustainability was paramount in the design of the housing prototype. Most of the premanufactured components can be made of recycled or recyclable materials. A green roof will reduce stormwater runoff, eliminate heat islands, and increase the roof’s insulation value. High-efficiency glass and the use of high-efficiency foam insulation in sandwiched floor and wall panels will decrease heating and cooling needs. The folding screen panels made of perforated steel function as a climate buffer, providing shade during the summer and reducing the impact of string winds in the winter.
Unit Flexibility: The layout of the dwelling unit depends on the occupant’s lifestyle. We are showing two plan versions as typical examples. The first unit includes one bedroom and a studio, with a double-height space over the living room; the second has two bedrooms. A powder room may be added on the main level, as long as it plugs into one of the plumbing chases integral to the concrete wall panels. All units feature a garage with transparent or translucent overhead doors on both sides, illuminating the street and park at night and allowing for natural light and street exposure when used as an artist studio or business.
Milwaukee’s Blatz Brewery, one of the country’s oldest and now defunct breweries listed on the National register of Historic Places, occupies a narrow downtown block. Built between 1851 and 1910, the massive masonry monolith had undergone a series of alterations in the 1980s to accommodate for apartments and offices but had subsequently fallen into disrepair. Working with a limited budget and within the strict parameters of the existing structure, we focused our efforts on a series of small interventions to re-imagine the building’s public sphere. A canopied street-level entrance leads into the new central lobby that bundles the main circulation spines and creates a lively interchange between offices, apartments, and new commercial spaces. Sliding between existing masonry columns, a narrow glowing box serves as concierge and small coffee shop. Buffered by a bamboo grove, the lobby overlooks a lower level lounge featuring a series of monumental bottle doors; depending on the doors’ position, the lounge can be used as one large open space, or divided into smaller intimate areas. An open-air roof pavilion provides a satellite amenity for all building users. Overlooking the skyline, the thin light strips lining the pavilion’s roof structure emit an enigmatic glow into Milwaukee’s somber nights, marking the urban resurgence of this downtown neighborhood.
BOTTLE DOORS: Each pivoting bottle door is 9’-6” wide and 9’ tall and consists of a welded aluminum frame and 1,590 horizontally stacked empty beer bottles, some of which were original Blatz bottles found in unopened boxes in the basement of this old brewery. Using CNC technology, the bottles are held in place by a thin web of precision-milled neoprene rings that are suspended between the members of the aluminum frame. Illuminated on all sides, the brown bottles emanate a warm amber glow reflected in the polished concrete floor. We developed a customized pivoting hardware set that allows a lounge guest to rotate each door around its center axis, thus permitting a high degree of spatial flexibility: the space can be totally open or, alternatively, private parties can be held in one part of the lounge while the other one remains accessible to the public.
ENTRY VESSEL: The entry vessel consolidates the service amenities for the lobby, including building security systems, an office for the building manager and concierge, as well as a small espresso and sandwich shop. Sliding between two existing masonry columns, the narrow rectangular volume is sheathed with back-lit sandblasted polycarbonate glazing and wrapped with wooden slats. Its soft luminosity subtly lights up the lobby as it echoes the amber hues from the bottle doors, providing an ethereal backdrop for the daily activities unfolding in the lobby. A linear grove of 9’ tall bamboo was planted along railings overlooking the lower level lounge. The grove acts as an acoustic and visual buffer, screening the lounge from the upper lobby’s bustle, and actively improves the overall air quality of the two-story space.
ROOF PAVILION: The roof pavilion consists of a simple steel superstructure constructed from a set of prefabricated shop-assembled elements that were lifted up onto the roof by a crane and connected in the field. A kit of polyacrylic sheets can be attached to the trellis beams for overhead screening. Thin LED strips are mounted to the underside of the trellis beams to provide ambiance lighting for the terrace. Simultaneously, the illuminated roof pavilion activates the corner of the building and transforms into a small neighborhood beacon, visible from dozens of blocks away.
ENTRY CANOPY: The entry canopy, marking the main entrance of the building and anchoring the internal lobby to the city outside, hovers over the drop-off area and penetrates the glass curtainwall, where it defines a small vestibule. Providing a dramatic visual effect when viewed from the street, the thin lighting strips with custom-designed translucent Eco-Resin lenses illuminate the sidewalk and then extend down vertically in the vestibule area, creating a dramatic interstitial transition between outside and inside.
Downtown Milwaukee, not unlike many other cities in America, is dominated by the automobile: Since the early 1950s, when the city’s ongoing existential fight against suburbia began, freeways, surface parking lots, and monstrous parking ramps have replaced a good part of Milwaukee’s original urban fabric. The result has been devastating, leading to a life-less central city with gaping holes, its raison-d’ être reduced to a giant car storage for adjacent office towers. In the last decade, however, downtown Milwaukee has seen an unprecedented rebirth, with new buildings built and abandoned ones renovated and converted, and with people moving back into the urban core.
“Downtown Garage” re-imagines one of the most notorious above-ground parking facilities in Milwaukee, covering almost one half of an entire city block and addresses one of the main concerns in contemporary American urban planning: Considering that ample, comfortable parking is still a prerequisite for the city’s survival, how can these mammoth buildings be transformed into productive urban constituents, into real assets for the community that transcend their utilitarian nature? Instead of tearing the 7-story building down and rebuilding it from scratch, we are proposing a more sustainable solution that takes advantage of the building’s healthy “bones.” The first two levels will be surgically gutted and reorganized into commercial space. A two-story concrete-framed “retail box” will be inserted into the volume and create the main entrance to the building. A retractable glass door system can be opened during the warmer months of the year, connecting the inside of the “retail box” with the street and eliminating the need for artificial air conditioning. Above, a fabric of cast translucent panels, made from recycled acrylic resin, will wrap the 5 stories of parking. Mounted on a simple aluminum frame that integrates a sophisticated LED lighting system, the panels serve as an elegant screen for the parking ramp and as a canvas for light projections at night. The garage thus constantly transforms its appearance: During the day, the translucent skirt captures and reflects the sunlight at different angles, depending not only on the time of the day but also on the direction from which one approaches the building. At night, the lighting system inside the garage illuminates the wrapper, turning the building into a vibrant, glowing object in the middle of downtown. In collaboration with fabricators and engineers, we have examined and tested different patterns and installation techniques for the panels, examining their effect on the parking structure’s overall aura.