Project Description2003 CHDA
Custom Home Under 3,000 Sq. Ft. / Grand Award
The very aspect of this house that impressed the judges the most—a crisp, clean form that almost floats above its Pella, Iowa, site—came close to turning out very differently. Architect Paul Mankins developed three separate schemes for the project: a “bridge” house that spanned a small ravine; a plan shaped like a bowtie; and a scheme consisting of a squared-off tube topping a concrete base. The clients chose the third option, and Mankins and his colleagues were on their way. “It's a perfect geometric shape sitting on the landscape,” said one judge.
The effortless grace with which the house appears to brush the land actually results from a hard-working set of parts. The cast-in-place concrete base, which Mankins refers to as the “bunker,” is dug into the slightly sloped site. Contractor Legacy Builders cantilevered a wood-framed tube over the bunker, stabilizing it with cross-braces. “The cross-bracing allows us to have the tube open on one end,” says Mankins. “Basically, the idea was that we would build the tube and point it at the view.” The idea worked. Vistas of pasture and pond stream in through the windows covering the entire 24-by-24-foot opening.
Because the clients' budget was limited, Mankins had to design a simple floor plan and get creative with materials. An open first floor contains the kitchen, dining room, and double-height great room. He lofted the master bedroom up above the kitchen and dining room, giving it access to the light and views entering through the end of the tube. The home's lower level holds additional bedrooms and a rec room, all of which open out onto a patio.
Since the house has such an open plan, most of its natural light comes from that 24-by-24-foot window wall. The only fenestration along its standing seam metal-clad sides consists of two sets of glass doors flanking the dining room. A crumpled fabric made from stainless steel threads is used as a privacy screen along the master bedroom railing and the deck railings; it adds texture and lets light through without costing a fortune. Pieces of chalkboard provide an inexpensive fireplace surround that resembles slate, and cost-effective asphalt shingles cover the home's roof, which is nearly impossible to see from the ground.
Thanks to a set of bookshelves that cuts through all three stories, the building's form looks just as powerful by moonlight as it does during the day. Lumasite, a translucent plastic, backs the birch shelves. When the sun sets and the owners switch on their lamps, the effect of light shining through the shelves turns the whole house into a glowing box.