LocationSpring Prairie, WI 53105, USA
ArchitectJohnsen Schmaling Architects
Project TeamBrian Johnsen, AIA; Sebastian Schmaling, AIA; Nick Woods
From the architect. The Ferrous House sits in a row of unexceptional 1970's ranches, part of a narrow subdivision hugging the edge of a wooded nature preserve west of Milwaukee. An existing dwelling that had fallen into serious disrepair was entirely gutted and stripped of its roof, but the limited construction budget required the reuse of the existing foundation, main perimeter walls, and plumbing cores.
The main level of the house, a simple rectangular volume with 1,380 sf of living space, is wrapped on three sides with a suspended curtain of weathering steel panels, their warm color of ferrous corrosion echoing the hues of the derelict farm equipment left behind on the area's abandoned pastures. The steel wrapper protects the inside of the house from the scrutiny of suspicious neighbors and the elements; in the back, it extends beyond the building's perimeter, where it shelters the sides of a linear south-facing patio.
Linear storage boxes, containing built-in closet systems and living room cabinetry, penetrate the steel curtain and cantilever over the edge of the building, adding desperately needed square footage without altering the original footprint of the house.
In a carefully choreographed entry sequence, wide exterior stairs run along the front of the house and lead into a glazed foyer, an extension of the main circulation core that transforms into a small observatory above the roof. The slightly tilted roof plane is supported by a filigree of exposed metal and wood trusses, adding height to the living spaces and allowing northern light to wash the inside of the house through a translucent, Nanogel-filled glass band. At night, the window band radiates its warm light into the distance, subtly evoking the iconic clerestory glow of the dairy barns that once dotted the region.
The Ferrous House offers a resource-conscious solution to the challenges of an aging, and often ill-conceived, suburban housing stock. In contrast to a radical tabula rasa approach, the project demonstrates how the bones of an obsolete building can be utilized and transformed into the framework for a contemporary dwelling.