In the Fall of 2009, Images Publishing released Transforming the Traditional—The Work of Cohen & Hacker Architects ($50), the first monograph exploring the residential work of the Evanston, Ill.-based firm led by husband-and-wife team Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker.
Through hundreds of color photographs, floor plans, sketches, and descriptions of new and remodeled houses, the monograph reveals Cohen & Hacker's process and its mastery of both the traditional and the modern. The firm excels in designing homes that blend contemporary concepts of living with the more formally defined spaces of traditional architecture, creating rooms within rooms through architectural detailing and visual cues rather than walls.
Transforming the Traditional surveys Cohen & Hacker-designed residences in Chicago's suburbs. The "New Houses" section begins with a 1987 Shingle-style home built on a pre-existing split-level house's foundation, moves through a 1992 lakefront summer-house-turned-year-round-house and a 1998 stone-and-stucco villa designed for an art collection, and finishes up with a 2003 North Shore Shingle cottage and a 2008 shotgun house on a narrow suburban lot. Six remodel projects are showcased in the "Houses Transformed" section, each one illustrating how Cohen & Hacker apply their theory of contextualism to blend existing structures and new additions into cohesive wholes.
"The houses we create are for you, our client, not for ourselves. We work to realize your vision of how you want to live," the firm's website promises, and indeed each project featured in the book illuminates how the architects tailor the design for a new home or remodel to precisely fit the unique needs and desires of its owner, while pursuing their fascination with aesthetic juxtaposition. Cohen & Hacker's delicate handling of the intersection between traditional principles and modern sensibilities is apparent on every page, as is the firm's attention to the environmental, historical, and social contexts inherent to each project, new or remodeled.
Most important, Transforming the Traditional reveals Cohen's and Hacker's ideas about the home. As stated in the book's introduction, "Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker do not think of themselves as eclectic architects. They use traditional residential forms because they believe these forms communicate the familiar, stable, and protective qualities that Western culture has always associated with domesticity." With each turn of a page, their ability to create effortlessly elegant homes that offer comfort, warmth, and a sense of security, as well as beauty, is brought into clear focus.
For more about the inner workings of Cohen & Hacker Architects, read ra's 2007 Leadership Awards Hall of Fame feature on the firm.