2014 Recipient | AIA Small Project Awards

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Topo House | Notes of Interest

The Topo House occupies a site embedded in the softly rolling hills of Wisconsin’s “Driftless Region.” The project explores how a building can literally merge with its context, blurring the boundaries between architecture and landscape, between tectonics and nature.

Two questions inadvertently arise when designing a house for the countryside: first, how to address the visual impact of a man-made structure on its natural surroundings; and second, how to mitigate the inherent environmental consequences of a building removed from the infrastructural amenities of an urban center. Black-anodized aluminum fins with interrelated contracting and expanding shapes organize the rainscreen building skin; depending on the time of the day and the angle from which they are viewed, the fins create a constantly changing veil that subverts the volumetric discipline of the house itself.

The award recipient addressed the first challenge by developing the building form out of the site’s natural topography, allowing it to become an integral part of the land rather than merely sitting on top of it as an object. The structure doesn’t hide that it’s an artificial construct, but it attempts to moderate the inherent antagonism between man-made building and nature.

The goal to minimize the ecological footprint of the house required a holistic design strategy addressing issues of orientation, thermal performance, stormwater mitigation, and on-site energy sourcing.

Additional Credits

  • Structural Engineer: Matt Christianson, Larson Engineering, Inc.
  • Photo Credit: © Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Topo House

  • Architect: Sebastian Schmaling, AIA
  • Firm: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
  • Location: Blue Mounds, Wisconsin

Jury Comments

Beautiful integration of a house into its landscape. Lives like it’s part of the landscape. A strong, clear design that seems to be simultaneously drivenby and embedded within its site. Sophisticated landform building that navigates between house and landscape. The home merges with its context: custom exterior panels reference biological and temporal movements of the surrounding landscape, positioning the house as both technologically savvy and contextually sensitive.

2014 AIA Small Project Awards Jury

  • Linda Reeder, AIA, Chair
  • Linda Reeder Architecture
  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Deb Silber
  • Fine Homebuilding Magazine
  • Newtown, Connecticut
  • Rene Gonzalez, AIA
  • Rene Gonzalez Architect
  • Miami, Florida
  • Lisa Tilder, AIA
  • Ohio State University
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Craig Scott, AIA
  • IwamotoScott Architecture
  • San Francisco, California

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