The story of the Zachary House, designed by Stephen Atkinson Architecture, is one of idealism of the profession and faith to the design. In three iterations, the house that was originally designed for Atkinson’s own parents went from being the incarnation of the architect’s own ideal image, revered by both modernists and traditionalists, to a highly protected “manuscript” of an architectural vision. The house was originally built in the 90′s in Zachary, Louisiana, where it gained a substantial amount of attention from other residents and the media for its blend of the “dog trot” and “shotgun” style homes. The house, now in its third life, was built under specific conditions that maintained every element of its distinctive design.
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The Zachary House has a somewhat convoluted history. In short, after the house was built the property that was owned by Atkinson’s father had to be sold. An admirer of the house, a Catholic Priest from Baton Rouge offered to save the house and had it moved to land he owned nearby. The new owner changed elements of the design, including making operable windows and changing the cladding. (via NYT) The result of the move contributed to Atkinson’s future apprehensions about protecting the original design choices of the design. When the new owners approached Atkinson for the plans, he decided to give them the plans without charge under the condition that the new owners would have to pay the architect for every alteration.
The Zachary House has distinctive elements. A single type of material is used between the roof and the walls – the metal cladding – which recalls associations of simple, rural living. The design is very reserved in the openings of the exterior. Acknowledging this muting of exterior voids emphasizes the affect of the breezeway which is the essential void in the house, separating the two rooms. The exterior, therefore, is an essential extension of the experience beyond the walls of the house. The breezeway opens the periphery of the walls to its occupation in a much more profound and exaggerated way than windows ever could.
The plan is based on the dogtrot house type that is common in the southern United States and highlighted by the breezeway that provides a way to cool the rooms on either side. An exterior deck also provides an artificial barrier between the private and public realms. The breezeway has a duality. When the house is occupied, with its 8-foot doors flung open, the breezeway becomes a natural extension of the exterior-interior-exterior conditions and conditions the climate of the space. When the house is unoccupied with its doors closed the emptiness of the breezeway is emphasized and becomes a vacuum within the house.
Its new location, with all of its pieces intact, is in Ramseur, North Carolina. Even some of the most contentious portions of the design were retained. According to Green’s article in the New York Times, Atkinson revealed that the most common suggestions included: not building the chimney, screening the breezeway, reducing the size of the doors to six feet instead of eight, and altering the ceiling to be cathedral style instead of the Barcelona Pavilion inspired eight foot flat ceiling.