architect/builder: locus architecture, minneapolis; landscape architect: Shaw Design Associates, Minneapolis; size: 3,089 square feet; construction cost: $130 per square foot; photos: John Christenson

Remember your grandmother who never threw anything away? She saved old magazines, used wrapping paper, and out-of-style clothes because she never knew when she might need them. Wynne Yelland, AIA, and Paul Neseth, AIA, know how she felt. The partners at Minneapolis design/build firm LOCUS Architecture habitually hang onto leftover building elements for possible future use. “We keep stuff around, in my garage and Wynne's garage and our construction supervisor's garage,” says Neseth. “It's both an asset and a disease.”

When their firm experienced a slowdown in 2003, it seemed like the perfect time to try out a long-cherished idea—a sustainable, progressively designed house, built on spec, that would showcase their ability to turn salvage into splendor. They bought an outdated 1950s ranch house in Minneapolis, dubbed it nowhaus 01, and started in on demolition. “We had a lull in our construction schedule, and it gave us something to keep our guys busy,” says Yelland. They remodeled the old house substantially, adding a floor and a half and opening up the plan. And they kept and reused original fixtures, framing lumber, and sheathing, designing a temporary rack in the garage to keep salvaged parts organized and close at hand.

In addition to its own stockpiles, LOCUS also seeks out reclaimed materials in the off-cut and remnant stacks at local factories. During construction of nowhaus, for example, an artist friend of Yelland and Neseth's tipped them off to a local billboard company with a warehouse full of scraps. The discarded billboard pieces ended up as backing for the house's translucent plastic siding, and the resulting ghostlike graphics patterning the exterior walls became one of the project's most striking features. Other recycled materials came from a local salvage contractor. LOCUS's design/build nature gives it the ability to accommodate found building elements at any stage in the construction process, which cuts down on material costs, jobsite waste, and embodied energy.
The architects placed nowhaus's insulation outside its framing to provide an unbroken layer of warmth. High-efficiency Loewen windows, one of their favorite products, also help lower energy use. The billboard-backed siding floats an inch and a half off the project's structure to guard against water damage. “If any moisture gets behind the siding, it will evaporate in that dead space before it reaches the frame,” says Neseth. “So the siding prolongs the life of the house.” The longer the house lasts, he and Yelland reason, the fewer of its parts will end up in landfills.

The home's many custom details serve no particular green purpose—at least, not at first glance. “Our contention is that if you build a project that's beautiful, people will want to take care of it longer,” says Yelland. “To us, that's sustainable.” He and Neseth are asking $829,000 for nowhaus 01, and they're currently looking for land for nowhaus 02.