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2012 Design Award -- Natural Metals

Brian Johnsen, AIA, and Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, LEED AP, noticed that the rural areas of Wisconsin often included old farm machinery left rusting in the fields as well as strong color contrasts between the green fields and the surrounding forests. The principals of Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee, called on that vernacular when they designed this Studio for a Composer in Spring Prairie, Wis.

Natural_Metals_1As judge Mark DeWalt says, "The rusted patina of this simple building is its major design statement. It softens the form and gives the studio instant character." The Cor-Ten steel envelope drapes over the building and seems to anchor it to the concrete foundation. At the same time, a clerestory between the two volumes resists the weight of the steel, while providing natural daylight to the storage area below.

Playing further with the tension between weight and lightness, the ends of the studio feature glass entries and the cantilevered steel again seems to float easily above the interior. Inside, the country-western musician and composer enjoys a space without distraction that permits him to focus solely on the music he creates.

The whole building looks as if it was placed carefully in the middle of the woods, with the concrete podium carved into the side of a hill and providing underground storage. "We work in the city and are surrounded by pastoral landscapes," says Schmaling. "There is a great tradition of craftsmanship around us. Simple buildings, well crafted. The product of hard work and appreciation for quality. The studio is not flashy. Not screaming out loud. It asks you to take time and look at it."

Natural_Metals_2The time to look is rewarded with the easy naturalness of the steel, which includes the roller marks and imperfections of the milling operation. As the steel weathers, the rust runs down to drip onto the concrete podium, blending the two materials naturally.

If you were walking through the woods and came across this little 300-square-foot studio, lighted from within and blending with the forest, you would be delighted and feel that, while unique and daring, it was an essential part of the landscape.

Studio for a Composer, Spring Prairie, Wis.

Completed: September 2011
Total square footage: 300 square feet
Owner: Eric Edstrom
Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee,
General contractor: Vintage Custom Homes, Mukwonago, Wis.
Steel: Cor-Ten, ASTM A242