Mind & Matter


Addition + Renovation = Transformation

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Dawn Finley of Interloop Architecture in the Johnson house: photo by author


I was recently in Houston giving a lecture at the Rice School of Architecture, and I had the privilege of touring the Johnson house, a new project designed by Mark Wamble and Dawn Finley of Interloop Architecture. Located in a typical live oak-lined street north of the university, the project is a significant modification to an original house designed in 1955 by Wilson, Morris & Crain—the same architects who designed the Houston Astrodome in 1960.

Interloop’s addition and renovation preserves much of the massing of the original house, appending an elongated armature that wraps around two sides of the back yard. The addition transforms an originally subdivided structure into a series of protracted spaces that celebrate light and movement. The new white armature is punctuated by volumetric bay windows and skylights, and is skewed nine degrees in order to optimize the usable area of the property. This quirky maneuver extends the nine degree angle into the tiniest details—leaving no door frame or drawer untouched. A series of imaginative inclusions like frosted glass panels backlit by a perforated rain screen, a “bumper rail” placed to assist running children in turning a corner, and a wrap-around upholstered dining bench complete the picture of an inspired and finely-tuned addition—much like a perfectly-tailored suit that features a playful interior lining.

My visit to the Johnson house reinvigorated my faith in a project type that deserves increased attention: adaptive reuse. While architects often focus on empty lots for future development, one cannot deny the reality of the vast quantity of embodied energy and materials that reside within the existing constructed world. Moreover, decreasing supplies of nonrenewable resources from oil to major minerals will demand a more thoughtful and surgical treatment of existing structures, rather than the raze-and-rebuild model practiced too often today. Although addition and renovation projects are typically more complex and not as glamorous as so-called green field development, it is important that we convey just how creative and innovative this project type can be. Interloop Architecture has done their part.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.