ferrous house - spring prairie, wisconsin
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.