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Vawter House

Private Residence

Sylvan Lake, Michigan
project cost: $350,000
project size: 2,000 sf
design: 1997

featured in Architectural Record Magazine / received young architects award

Program: inside / out house

Situated between a street and a lake, and laying within a flood plane, the position of this house defines its form.  One encounters upon approach a minimal entrance, composed solely of elements that receive street travel: a door to enter and a place to store cars.  Upon entry, the focus initially is on intimacy of scale before the house unfolds toward a larger room whose space wraps up the stair to an open floor above.  The spatial sequence of the house is organized as a “decompression zone,” a place where one shakes off the pressures of the day.  One step further, and the walls give way to open vistas of the lake and landscape.  On the lake side, the house reaches toward the water and seems to relax as it embraces the natural surroundings.  The building grips the unstable earth by a series of drilled piers, and holds its position against the rush of flood waters that periodically sweep onto the parcel.  A passageway in the shape of an apse forms an ambiguous space between the kitchen and living room: it provides cover, yet is open to the elements along one wall.  It can be traversed comfortably in warmer months.  And when the lake does overflow onto the property, this apse becomes an internal, private lake solely for the homeowners to view six inches below their feet.

The structural system, an extension of this attachment to the earth, modulates the overall form of the house.  The timber frame is set in place, letting the building’s skeleton telescope through the wall surface to be read on the outside.  Influenced by Detroit’s history and local industry, the construction system was conceived of as a prefabricated wood frame and panel assembly system.  Stressed skin sandwich panels are fabricated in a local factory, delivered and bolted in place.  The process is a combination of automotive production as well as post-war housing production in the area, both of which are ghosts of Detroit’s past.  What remains are fragments of each type of production willing to try a new set of limits.

Materials: wood frame + siding . glass wall enclosure



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