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Pfanner House

Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design

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Zoka Zola, Zoka Zola Architecture Urban Design

Project Name

Pfanner House

Project Status


Year Completed



3,000 sq. feet

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Project Description

My Family / Our House / The Concept of Freedom / New Concept of Openness in Architecture

This architectural project for my house was conceived in 1997 in London a few months before moving to Chicago. The construction of the house was completed in July 2002.
The house here submitted explores architectural concept of Opening. Not an opening that merely extends the space, or a continuously transitioning space, instead an opening of one space to another space. We’ve thought and dreamt for so long in social sciences, philosophy and our lives being open to the other. Although architecture always thought and rethought its question of boundaries, and has openings as one of its intrinsic elements, there are only a handful of architectural references with opening which are smooth, unhindered, non-fretful, non-tittering, openings of one space to the other. – openings that are formed like breathing channels in healthy lungs where movements are long and smooth.
How can we build our houses that best respond to the cultural changes that take place? Why do we so easily create prisons for ourselves? It is because a balance between security and freedom is hard to maintain?
How can that house not trap us in? As an architect of my own houses how is it possible not to be housed inside my own limits? How can we let time run it’s own delightful progression?
This house is designed not to feel owned. When the building feels owned it’s impoverished, because it has a flattened relationship with the rest of the world.

The guest and the host of the house are treated equally in this house. The guest washroom is a place where guest feels alone in the center of the house, having privacy to contemplate it
Which parts of our interiors to make public is our dilemma. This house is not exposing its intimacy, but its interior so that other people can inhabit it as part of their own mental space, rather than observe the intimate life of its owners.
The landscape that we’ll see through the windows of the house is not purely visual and not framed selectively according to the ideas of good view, instead it is a reminder of what is there in its proximity. Not the same space or a community but the proximity.

Our house is the house of pleasure of being alive there and then. The terrace is the main space of pleasure. The bodily pleasure, social pleasure, pleasures with passage of time, pleasure with air, sun and trees. The kitchen counter and the balcony and the bathrooms are the places of pleasure of daily activity. At the exits from the house, entrances, balcony extension, terrace and the bedroom extension are the places of daily pleasure of being with the house.
There is no distinction of treatment of men and woman in our house, but there is an intention of providing a clean, non-burdened and non-dampened place for an encounter.

Chicago / Zoning Ordinance and Building Code / Neighborhood

Chicago is a gridded city mostly regulated through it's zoning ordinance, which divides city lots according to permitted uses, maximum permissible building heights and required yard regulations. The typical residential building is placed in the middle of the lot with its required front, back and side yards and enclosed with a fence. As a result the space between adjacent buildings (their combined side yard) is usually a tight and poorly defined space, back yards are small spaces trapped between the garage and house, and the front yard is used mainly as a spacer, enclosed by a fence, between the building and the street. This house is built on an undersized Chicago lot of 24.5' x 79' (compared to the standard Chicago lot of 25' x 125') zoned R5 which means that the built floor area could be 2.2 x the lot area. The house has 3000 sq. ft. including garage and exterior spaces, which is about 2/3 of its allowable building area.
The house suggests a way of urbanizing residential planning in Chicago. It is placed on a corner lot in a way that articulates yards spaces around it. There is no fence around the lot, so it is possible to walk through the site. The side yard is wide enough to form a well defined space between the two buildings and to plant 4 cottonwood trees, which will provide shade and privacy to the south side windows. The back yard is used as a garden, but it is also a potential site for a new building which could utilize the remaining allowable built area. The other means of urbanizing this lot are by opening the interior of the house to the street through its balconies, terraces and windows.
The building's section was influenced by the building code, which allows a single-family home of no more than two stories to have only one stairway, and to be wood frame construction. The code defines the basement as habitable space of more that 50% at level more than 4' below ground. Therefore, the whole area of garage, studio, its mezzanine and stairs counts as basement floor, and the building is only two stories high.
The house is clad in orange brick, the same color as most of the buildings surrounding it. In this way the main difference between it and the other buildings--its degree of its openness--is understood more easily.

Construction Systems / Sustainable Features / Schedule / Cost

House is constructed with wood frame wall composition with high insulation value. Heating is radiant floor heating. Air-conditioning use is reduced by using cross ventilation and living in open air spaces.
It took us one year to find a land, one year to design, one year to bid, and one year to construct it . It’s cost is $183.00 / sq. ft.
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