The clients came to us with these requests - a symmetrical composition, no painted surfaces, maximum privacy combined with vibrant communal spaces, parking for four cars, ample green space, and a consideration of the pedestrian. The organization around a central courtyard answers the clients’ request for symmetry, but also structures the relation between public and private spaces and organizes circulation for cars and people in a compact, efficient space. The owners' brief led to experimentation with an unfamiliar building systems for private houses: concrete, plaster, wood and steel. Client interests were nurtured through intense communication, where the building was presented and adapted as a live 3d model, with each room rendered in actual material and furniture selections.
The house sits in a dense neighborhood of single family houses in Birmingham, Michigan. The nearby houses are traditional in appearance, and sit on small rectangular lots. The design challenge was integrating a modern house into this context without making a bombastic statement. Dividing the house into discrete units, rather than having a long unbroken street facade keeps it in scale with the surrounding buildings. The courtyard presents a welcoming space to the street, and establishes and intermediate zone between the house interior and the neighborhood, in the manner of a traditional American front porch. Although the concrete and weathered steel finishes are unusual on private houses, their colors are warm and do not feel out of place with their brick and wood neighbors.
Energy efficiency was a design concern, both in systems and in construction. The house is heated and cooled by a ground source heat pump system fed by on-site geothermal wells. The building enclosure was developed in conjunction with a building envelope consultant, with an emphasis on the integrity and continuity of the insulated wrapper. The insulated precast concrete panels and weathered steel clad rainscreen walls provide both architectural finish and an effective thermal barrier. All windows and exterior doors are thermally broken and fitted with triple glazing. All light fixtures are high efficacy. The insulated precast concrete panels were made locally, and the glazing and steel panel systems were fabricated in North America.
The design of the house emphasizes low-maintenance, durable materials. The primary structural system is precast concrete panels, with infill of weathered-steel clad stud walls. The philosophy extends to long-lasting interior materials such as blackened steel, unpainted plaster, prefinished wood, and polished concrete. The palette of the house is limited, with each material expressed in its integral color.
Occupant comfort was another design concern. The open plan and multiple exposures create excellent cross ventilation. During hot or cold months, an energy recovery ventilation system provides conditioned fresh air. High performance glazing allows for large glass areas without excessive heat gain or loss. In addition, the tightly sealed wrapper reduces noise pollution.
As a project, the house became richer through working within a unique set of constraints – the clients’ detailed brief, the traditional neighborhood context, the symmetry mandate, and the strict limits on materials. The result was an intense design process, where each component was studied and revised in 3d visualizations. The rigorous detailing that resulted from this process creates a contemplative, almost monastic environment, while at the same time re-framing unexpected views of its suburban neighborhood. The building creates a subtle dialogue with its surroundings, working within its context while clearly standing apart.
The collaborative process itself led to an unusual degree of client understanding and satisfaction with the finished building.
Khanna Schultz is a small office with a global outlook. From our base in Brooklyn we have completed projects in locations ranging from rural Kansas, to suburban Detroit, to urban Mumbai. Our projects have won multiple awards and have been published widely.
We have a special interest in shifting perceptions of scale, both within a building, and between a building and its surroundings. Construction and detailing are a source of inspiration, balanced by a playful sensibility toward form. We follow a philosophy that inventive design must be grounded in a deep reading of the client’s needs, the site, and its context.