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Topo House

Johnsen Schmaling Architects

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mkrochmalweaetxdyvaydzcwq, Hanley

Project Name

Topo House

Project Status


Year Completed



2,910 sq. feet


  • General Contractor: Burg Construction
  • Landscape Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
  • Interior Designer: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
  • John J. Macaulay

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Project Description

Custom Home / Under 3,000 Square Feet / Citation
Set on 45 acres among the deep river valleys of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, the Topo House takes its cues from the region’s distinct topography. The long, horizontal volume burrows partly into the ground, with an angled copper roof that gradually rises from the earth. Architecture and landscape merge in the small rectangular courtyards carved from the building bars. Black-anodized aluminum fins on the façade create a relief that evokes the wave patterns of the wind-blown prairie. Viewed at different times of day or from various angles, these fins create a changeable veil that alters viewers’ perceptions of the house’s geometric discipline. Inside, the functional spaces trace upward along five levels from the lowest-level entrance to an observatory that caps the 2,910-square-foot residence.

The jury generally agreed that the project had admirable ambitions and was executed at a high level. Yet they thought it wasn’t fully resolved—and even a bit overwrought in places. “It’s not disingenuous, it’s just not overly genuine either,” said juror Josh Shelton. “It landed in some middle ground. It’s super ambitious. And it has many specific ties to the site that cry out against generic modernism. In that way, it’s a model of what residential architecture should be.” —Vernon Mays
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