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Milwaukee-based Johnsen Schmaling Architects has aptly captured the heart of what it means to live simply in the American Midwest and conveys a sense of that freedom in their design philosophy. Comparing three of their most recent projects (a cabin, a studio and a single family residence), one can easily discern a clear and soulful rhythm in their work—a harmonic cadence in synchronicity with both man and nature.
Located in Muscoda, Wisconsin, the Stacked Cabin is an 82 square meter (880 square-foot) single family residence hidden away from the twenty-first century world in a remote Wisconsin forest. At first blush, the modest house fits snugly into its wooden hillside with a low- slung, twin-level block punctuated by a subtle third-level bookend. Syncopated fenestration frames exterior views while giving the occasional happy wanderer glimpses of the warm interior.
The material palette is comprised of exposed concrete, cedar, anodized metal and cementitious plaster—subdued hues that blend in with the earth, rock and woods of the picturesque surroundings. A humble yet powerful statement is created by the demur architecture in juxtaposition to the slope of golden leaves blanketing a thinning autumn forest, all capped with a blustery sky. This iconographic presence acts as a sort of modernist mile-marker on one of the paths meandering through the landscape.
Studio for a Composer
This piece (located in Spring Prairie, Wisconsin) was commissioned by an accomplished Country Western musician/composer who requested a tranquil refuge away from the fray, where he could work and literally hear himself think. The architects answered the ownerʼs charge with a finely tuned design that is the physical embodiment of peace and serenity—a state of being to which most everyone aspires.
The studio seemingly floats upon a 36 centimeter (14 inch) clerestory of illuminated translucent polycarbonate that emphasizes the otherworldly aspect of the quiet and dignified work. The entire opera rests upon a type of “podium,” which is carved into the steep hill and extends horizontally, providing for a green/vegetated roof that minimizes storm water runoff. This “rostrum” also accommodates storage space below (lit by the clerestory)—all of which is accessed on the lower downhill side of the edifice via a cedar-clad overhead door.
The OS House is a 177 square meter (1900 square foot) infill project located on the edge of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. It occupies a narrow lot which completes a row of housing built during the last century. The single family, detached residence, uses an amusing mélange of simple colors, and even simpler rectilinear form to establish an exterior rhythm which deciphers an interior organization and flow of space.
Individual moments consisting of separate functions push and pull the playful interconnectedness within the project to create a patio, an outdoor terrace, a covered exterior edge, and a look-out study. The project was one of the first LEED Platinum certified homes built in the Upper Midwest.
This simple and efficient rectilinear 3726 square meter (40,108 square foot) project blends with the environs, thanks to the unassuming massing that captures the harmony of the rugged north. The form’s honest profile is composed of unpretentious lines that cut the sky with bold and confident strokes while overhangs extend space from the interior to the exterior and emphasize key points of entry as well as vehicular zones. Throughout the day, the shifting sun and shadows accentuate slots and notches cut out of the whole like the work of a master woodcarver whose respect for the medium is reflected in his careful incisions.
The studio’s typical sensitivity is similarly evident in the structure’s attractive material palette of sustainably harvested cedar siding. Indigenous cedar is juxtaposed in both clear and black satin stain. The clear and welcoming nature of the wood is reserved for the vehicular inspection areas and interior of the facility. The black exterior “shell” conversely succeeds at camouflaging the edifice against the expanse of forest and
enhances the charm of the more natural, lighter fields of cedar. The black motif against a landscape that is often covered in a blanket of white snow, is visually strong and further adds to the composition’s iconographic symbolism as an outpost in the wilderness. When one arrives at the station, the inviting material warmth and richness of the architecture goes down easily, much like hot apple cider on a blustery winter day.
The success of the building is propagating additional commissions from the U.S. Government. Currently under construction is the Van Buren Land Port of Entry in Maine. It is of a similar size and is scheduled to complete in the fall of 2013. As is prevalent of the équipe’s work, this new complex is also characterized by its robust sensibility to its environs and responsive sense of place.
The Warroad project is impressive both from an architectural perspective with its straightforward geometric logic and purity of spirit and from the interest it has created. Its effortless shape and intelligent use of materials make it stand out easily from the rest of the "forest.
The design brief was to create a new state-of-the-art research laboratory on the decommissioned Williams Field Air Force Base for Arizona State University (40 minutes south east of downtown Phoenix). The facility would need to help recruit and retain top faculty and students on a national as well as an international level.
The 3,251 square meter (34,994 square feet) project (located at Unity & 2nd Street), was designed in nine months and constructed in one year. It is an excellent example of modern architecture responding to vernacular challenge—in this case, the extreme summer temperatures of the Sonoran Desert reaching as much as 46 degrees celsius (115 degrees fahrenheit), with a diurnal temperature differential of 17 degrees celsius (30 degrees fahrenheit).
The architecture responds to this blast furnace-like desert heat with a restrained form that provides monastery-esque privacy with 9 m (30 ft) tall, 30 cm (12 in) thick precast concrete panels that were craned into place and attached to the steel post and beam structure. The panels are used for the structure’s exterior shell and certain interior partitions. A sea of mosaic perforations are uniformly repeated across every panel articulating a Mayan-like (think Frank Lloyd Wright) expression.
The FLW influence, which concedes more than a mere coincidental intonation, was spawned when the architect visited a group of projects by the American master at Florida Southern College (Lakeland, Florida, 48 km /30 miles east of Tampa). Jones Studio took away from the visit Wright’s use of repetitive patterns and colored glass to enhance his environments. The Phoenix-based studio applied the experience to accent their introspective design with occasional colored glazing within certain perforations, thereby creating a sense of the “higher calling” and solemnity of science—the perfect ambiance for the scientific research facility.
In referring to the building’s inward form, architect Eddie Jones, AIA, Principal of Jones Studio, notes the planning is modeled after Mexican haciendas where “the typology is extremely introverted with high walls which contain succulent oasis gardens.” The architect further points out: “Our studio wanted to create an environment concentrating on the beauty from within, helping to foster privacy and promote greater focus for both scientists and students.”