Topo House, designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects.
John J. Macaulay Topo House, designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects.

Johnsen Schmaling Architects 

Set on 45 acres among the deep river valleys of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, the Topo House takes its cues from the region’s distinct topography. The long, horizontal volume burrows partly into the ground, with an angled copper roof that gradually rises from the earth. Architecture and landscape merge in the small rectangular courtyards carved from the building bars. Black-anodized aluminum fins on the façade create a relief that evokes the wave patterns of the wind-blown prairie. Viewed at different times of day or from various angles, these fins create a changeable veil that alters viewers’ perceptions of the house’s geometric discipline. Inside, the functional spaces trace upward along five levels from the lowest-level entrance to an observatory that caps the 2,910-square-foot residence.

The jury generally agreed that the project had admirable ambitions and was executed at a high level. Yet they thought it wasn’t fully resolved—and even a bit overwrought in places. “It’s not disingenuous, it’s just not overly genuine either,” said juror Josh Shelton. “It landed in some middle ground. It’s super ambitious. And it has many specific ties to the site that cry out against generic modernism. In that way, it’s a model of what residential architecture should be.”

Click here to see all of the winners of the 2014 Residential Architect Design Awards.

Green roof.
John J. Macaulay Green roof.

Exterior view, at dusk.
John J. Macaulay Exterior view, at dusk.

John J. Macaulay Courtyard.

Facade detail.
John J. Macaulay Facade detail.

Kitchen, with view to living area.
John J. Macaulay Kitchen, with view to living area.

John J. Macaulay Terrace.

John J. Macaulay Elevation.


Floor Plans.
Courtesy Johnsen Schmaling Floor Plans.

Project Credits

Project  Topo House, Blue Mounds, Wis.
Architect  Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee—Brian Johnsen, AIA; Sebastian Schmaling, AIA
General Contractor  Burg Construction
Landscape Architect  Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Interior Designer  Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Photography  John J. Macaulay
Project Size  2,910 square feet
Construction Cost  $354 per square foot

Materials and Sources

Bathroom Cabinets  Custom
Bathroom Fittings  Kohler
Bathroom Fixtures  Lacava
Cooktop/Oven  Miele
Countertops  Custom stainless steel
Dishwasher  Bosch
Exterior Siding  Cedar
Flooring  Polished integrally colored concrete floors; White oak
Garage Doors  Clopay
Garbage Disposal  Custom
Hardware  Amerock; Schlage
HVAC  Trane
Insulation  Biofoam
Kitchen Cabinets  Bulthaup
Kitchen Fittings  Grohe
Kitchen Fixtures  Custom stainless steel
Lighting Fixtures  Bega; Cooper Lighting, Iris; Juno
Paints and Finishes  Benjamin Moore & Co.
Refrigerator  Thermador
Roofing  Johns Manville
Windows  Custom; Eagle