Architecture school encourages students to design buildings with strong organizing concepts that take novel, and sometimes whimsical, approaches to solving familiar problems. All of that changes, of course, when graduate architects face the reality of clients, budgets, and building codes. So why didn’t Brian Johnsen, AIA, and Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, get the memo? Their young firm, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, has managed not only to maintain the creative energy of a design studio, but also to realize their engaging, stimulating solutions in buildings that get built—and perform—in the real world.
The firm’s Camouflage House, named residential architect’s 2007 Project of the Year, uses alternating vertical panels of siding and glass to echo the effect of moving through its forested site, recruiting the trees themselves to extend the perceptual trick. Ferrous House (which won a 2009 residential architect Design Award), accomplishes the impressive feat of redeeming a split-entry ranch by embracing, rather than effacing, the type’s more idiosyncratic features.
The partners enjoy “pushing ourselves into new conceptual territory,” Johnsen explains, “in scale, materiality, fenestration. We are very concerned about not resting on one’s previous thoughts.” A glance at the firm’s recently completed projects and those still on the boards should allay any fear in that regard. The work percolates with ideas that are at once playful, coherent, and practical.
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
The blank-canvas aspect each project offers. The inherent scale of residential work allows us to explore fundamental architectural issues and reshape the paradigm of housing.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
Restrictive design ordinances that prohibit innovative design.
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
Think – Design – Build.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
Study models (X-Acto knife, chipboard, Sobo glue, Band-Aids).
What software does your firm use?
AutoCAD, Revit, Photoshop, SketchUp, InDesign, Rhino.
Who is your ideal client?
Individuals open-minded to the possibilities that any project, large or small, can achieve through creative thinking and good design.
What is your favorite building?
Leça Swimming Pools in Leça da Palmeira, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
Karl Friedrich Schinkel.