The OS House by Johnsen Schmaling Architects is located in downtown Racine, Wisconsin and attempts to redefine the urban fabric of this historic rustbelt city. Sited on a narrow lot between a 3-story mansion and a mid-century ranch, the colorful 1,900sf residence is a welcome and dynamic intervention to the streetscape.
From an organizational standpoint, the OS House is a simple rectangular volume that serves as a transition piece between the large mass of the mansion and the low profile of the adjacent ranch. The residence also serves as a transition between the street and the shores of Lake Michigan through the use of glazing and outdoor spaces. Upon approaching the main entry courtyard of the OS House, the architects’ strategic use of glazing is evident: despite being rectangular in volume, the interior of the residence is a compilation of intricately carved niches visually connected by a series of sliding or stationary glazed panels . These niches include unique indoor/outdoor spaces such as elevated patios, a shaded main level terrace, and a glazed vestibule adjacent to the dining room. The organization capitalizes on the fantastic views afforded by the site.
Perhaps the most notable architectural feature of the OS House would be the rainscreen: a system of thin concrete panels suspended between steel channels. In addition to being a radical architectural statement, this assembly creates an 8” deep ventilated envelope that contributes to the superior performance of the residence. Apart from being a radical formal departure from the existing neighborhood context, the OS House is is one of the first LEED Platinum residences in the Midwest. The project utilizes a variety of sustainable materials including a ventilated rainscreens, high-efficiency glazing, low-flow water fixtures, and permeable surfaces to mitigate stormwater runoff. These materials, coupled with innovative technologies such as a free-standing PV array, photovoltaic roof laminates, and a deep-well geothermal heating/cooling system allows the residence to operate off the grid for most of the year (and even function as a net producer during peak energy harvest).