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Studio for a Composer

Johnsen Schmaling Architects

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Project Description

AIA 2013 Small Project Awards winner in Category 1: A small project construction, object, work of environmental art or architectural design element up to $150,000.


An unassuming structure nestled into a rural Wisconsin hillside, this intimate retreat serves as a studio for a Country Western musician to write his work and reconnect with nature. With its exacting construction details and a carefully restrained material palette, the building continues the tradition of Midwestern pastoral architecture and its proud legacy of aesthetic sobriety, functional lucidity and robust craftsmanship. A concrete plinth, carved into the sloped site, provides storage space and supports a linear studio volume whose long sides are covered with a weathering steel shroud. Glazed openings at each end of the studio frame views into the landscape, providing access into the space and onto the green roof of the concrete plinth. The steel shroud is slightly lifted off the plinth, teasingly exposing a narrow clerestory that allows the studio to seemingly float above its base. The clerestory provides natural light for the storage space below; at night, it emits its soft glow into the dark countryside. The carefully detailed steel envelope turns the building skin into an ever-changing canvas. Alloy imperfections, surface oils, and roller marks leave their individual traces as the material weathers, juxtaposing the building’s formal restraint with a stubbornly unpredictable veneer.
Jury Comments: A beautiful, restrained project. This project succeeds mightily. The wood detailing, the use of color, and the simplicity of this retreat for a musician is inspiring. An inspiring place in which to create music and commune with nature. The color palette is at once animated and subtle. A mahogany/rust shroud floats over a green roof. A continuous band of illuminated glass under the weathered steel studio serves to connect and separate the studio from its concrete podium. The studio is warm and embracing. A remarkable project that elegantly responds to its site. This retreat evokes contemplation through a simplified plan that successfully captures framed views of nature. The form is brought to life with a carefully orchestrated clerestory below that welcomes upon approach. Inspiring in its rawness and authenticity, you can’t help but be drawn to this studio in the woods. Simplicity achieved through constant rigor. Such a clear diagram, such attention to detail, such pure space and pure surface. This project accomplishes a rare level of purity - I find myself wanting to hear the music that must be inspired by such a contemplative place.
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