Redaction House by Johnsen Schmaling Architects


From the architect. The Redaction House is a compact home for a fiber artist and her young family, an unapologetically contemporary addition to a long necklace of large, prosaic spec homes surrounding a small lake in suburban Milwaukee. Built on a narrow sliver of land that had been considered unsuitable for new construction because of its limited size and prohibitive zoning restrictions, the house is a case study in architecture’s ability to exploit the perceived constraints of a challenging context, offering genuine design solutions that address fundamental issues of privacy, density, and life embedded in the bromide aesthetics of suburbia.

Sitting on a stepped brick podium carved into the site’s existing slope, the main program is consolidated in a simple two-story wood cube, a deliberately introverted structure designed to function as an optic filter that focuses on the site’s limited lake vista while editing out views of the built-up context around it. Approaching the house from the street, a path leads into a linear entry courtyard, an outdoor antechamber surrounded by a slotted brick wall whose decreasing perforation begins the careful process of visual redaction. At the end of a courtyard, the transparent front door frames an unencumbered view of the lake beyond. Inside, strategically placed floor-to-ceiling apertures alternate with solid walls, taking advantage of sightlines that are desirable and screening those that are not. The rooms are grouped along the perimeter of the family’s central gathering space, a two-story living hall where the apertures are stacked vertically to open up views into the sky and the bluff’s deciduous foliage.

The carefully restrained exterior material palette is locally sourced and limited to wood from northern Wisconsin and brick from Illinois. The main body of the house is clad in horizontal cedar, complemented by strips of dark-stained vertical cedar between the deeply recessed apertures. Here, narrow painted boards create an unexpected filigree of colors, a subtle nod at the polychrome threads that characterize the fiber artist’s own work.

The building envelope is insulated with soy-based closed-cell expanding foam, yielding extraordinary R-values in walls and roofs of 35 and 55, respectively. The home’s green roofs further increase the roof’s insulation value; more importantly, they minimize stormwater runoff to improve long-term bluff stability and the lake’s water quality. Excess stormwater is collected in an on-site raingarden , where it can slowly percolate into the ground.

Architects: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Location: Oconomowoc, WI 53066, USA
Year: 2014
Photographs: John J. Macaulay


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