In search of the origins of architecture, Laugier presented a primitive hut using the three basic elements of architecture – the post, the lintel and the gable. Semper’s pursuit of the origin resulted in a primitive dwelling that was comprised of four basic qualities – earthwork, hearth, framework/roof, and enclosing membrane. While Laugier’s list of basic elements stemmed from the obsession with disciplinary origins, Semper‘s meditations were a vehicle to essentialize that which was previously seen as superfluous, namely the building enclosure. Semper wanted to put ornament to work. Butterfly House is an exercise in re-working three ubiquitous elements – window, door and roof – until they exceed their functional value and lead the way to new architectural effects. Butterfly House builds upon Laugier’s primitive hut as a model of fitness, updated to reflect a post-bubble economic climate rather than mythical origins, as well as Semper’s interest in the productive capacity of the apparently unnecessary. Our conceptual hut uses a limited quantity of elements to solicit rich qualities and characteristics and uncovers a zone of enchantment between the essential and the excessive.
Butterfly House is a 1,000 sqf guesthouse situated on a 22-acre, heavily wooded property in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Two artists commissioned the project in 2009, at the height of the economic recession. Rather than seeing this condition as a handicap, the design of the Butterfly House takes advantage of these constraints to create a broad spectrum of qualities and experiences using one window (view), one door (access) and one roof (shelter). The elements are entangled with one another as a means of activating the building’s surfaces – top to bottom, inside and out – to work on the overall mass. The elements pressurize, bend and stretch in relationship to one another, making the boundaries between them ambiguous and not often identifiable.
The design’s economy and fitness stems from its small building footprint and use of standard residential construction systems – shingle enclosure and wood truss roofing structure. Using these two conventional building systems, Butterfly House explores a series of cinematic strategies and massing effects to extend its reach beyond the confines of its footprint. Neither a mirror nor a frame, the building asserts itself into the landscape, stealing parts of it away and emanating back into it.
The project is a study in the physics of color, examining how color is bound to material and as a medium, is able to operate in multiple dimensions. The Butterfly House uses a combination of custom-color and standard-color shingle tiles. These recycled stainless steel tiles not only have a brilliant coloration, but also reflects and absorbs the color of their surroundings. As such, depending on angle of approach, time of the day, month or year, the surface coloration is different and in constant flux.
The house is conceived as a preternatural, brilliantly colored mass that oscillates between being in sheer camouflage and being a sparkling beacon within the woods. With silver as a neutral base, more intense colors such as peacock, gold and slate blues emerge from the corners, intensifying in saturation and chroma towards the center of the roof. The neutral silver tiles straddle across edges of the surface, flattening the reading of the mass in perspective. The unique coloration of the tiles both augments the form of the building and blends it into its surrounding – edges can either solidify or dissolve the silhouette of the mass – transforming the building’s appearance daily and between seasons.
The Butterfly House is poised at the precipice between the woods and the pond. It relies on the tension between maximizing access and views to the pond and nestling into the woods. In both directions, the topography and the physics of the site impact the mass of the building. The mass makes use of different forms of virtual pressurization to create a vibration between the project’s autonomy and integration with the surrounding landscape.
Working from a standard rectangular plan, the geometry shifts subtly in three dimensions, pulling the landscape inward along its edges. The mass is pressurized along its central axis, where one enters the house – pinching the house inwards in plan and pushing upwards in section. The entry and the storefront are pushed deep into the plan; one is almost outside again immediately after you enter the house. At this pressurized area, the roof is pushed up – which is done by simply flipping a conventional roof truss upside down – to become the façade of the building.
The massing works to entangle the three elements – window, door and roof – in order to cull out dynamic effects. Instead of solely working the silhouette of a primitive geometrical figure (such as the cube and extruded triangle typical to most suburban homes), the mass plays up the edges between the elements –where the roof meets the window and where the roof folds to a vertical surface. Thus, the profile and silhouette of the mass is in constant juxtaposition with the lines nested within the mass. Depending on the angle of approach, the perception of the embedded lines shift from being a continuation of the profile to an edge of a surface, where lines merge and emerge from the mass.
While Laugier was interested in establishing universal principles in architecture by defining the basics elements, Semper saw his list as a way to define the essential character of architecture. Although not explicitly phenomenological in approach, the Butterfly House attempts to postulate the essential elements of architecture (window, door and roof) through a systematic investigation of specific characteristics (color and mass) as they reveal themselves through experience.