On a corner lot in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Dirk Denison Architects physically turns the notion of a family home—and its landscape—up, down, and on its side. Principal Dirk Denison, FAIA, composed an orthogonal, ipe-clad structure that “pushes out” key interior spaces with large rectangular bay windows and “pulls in” landscaped courtyards, creating voids for exterior staircases and landscaped roofs.
“Essentially, we carved away the rectilinear form of the building to accommodate landscape on each level and every view of the building,” says Denison, noting that each push and pull creates an opportunity (and surface) for exterior landscape.
As a first move, Denison leveraged sight lines from the home’s interior out onto an open green space across the street. “For us, the landscape was both the biggest challenge and the greatest accomplishment,” says Denison, who saw this project as a way to demonstrate how to rethink urban residential architecture.
In Denison’s design, sustainable features were key: The house is heated and cooled by geothermal systems and enclosed in a high-performing skin and window system. And, even though the building fills the site within the allowable city constraints, more than 50 percent of the site (by way of roof and courtyards) is considered landscaped, complete with an intensively planted roof over the garage that boasts a grove of aspen and fir trees. These features contributed to the building’s City of Chicago’s Green Permit distinction. (It was, in fact, one of the first projects to apply for, and get, this expedited permit, which encourages green building.)
Inside, an internal courtyard defines the transition from the formal living areas at one end of the main floor (for the adults) to the family space (for the children) at the other. In the middle zone, a stairwell (with a custom light fixture by Paris-based artist/designer Arik Levy) sets up vertical zoning between different spaces for playing, living, sleeping, and working.
The interior of the house is conceived as a series of glass vitrines. The first is literal: integrated large-scale aquariums in the living room and master bedroom provide active backdrops to the serene interior. The second is more philosophical: views into other areas of the house, framed by floor-to-ceiling bay windows. Both of these types of vitrines are conceived as habitats—simply scaled up and scaled down. The house’s interior spaces are light-filled and softly colored with natural ash-wood floors and millwork, which are balanced with darker earth-toned upholstery—an intentional move on Denison’s part that provides a neutral backdrop against which to appreciate the changing colors and textures of the landscape, both inside and out.
Project Chicago Residence, Chicago
Architect Dirk Denison Architects, Chicago—Dirk Denison, FAIA (founding principal); Todd Webb, AIA (principal)
Interior Designer Dirk Denison Architects
Mechanical Engineer Building Engineering Systems
Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
Electrical Engineer Building Engineering Systems
General Contractor Tip Top Builders
Landscape Architect Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Lighting Designer Filament 33
Aquatic Systems Design Bryan Schuetze, Aquamoon
Size 9,700 square feet
Materials and Sources
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants Sikkens Cetol sikkens.com
Appliances Sub-Zero and Wolf subzero-wolf.com; TurboChef Technologies turbochef.com
Bathroom Fixtures Dornbracht dornbracht.com
Carpet Edward Fields edwardfields.com; Tai Ping taipingcarpets.com
Cabinets Parenti & Rafaelli parentiwoodwork.com
Exterior Wall Systems Ipe rainscreen
Flooring Quartered ash
Glass Bendheim bendheim.com
Insulation Polymaster polymaster.com
Kitchen Fixtures Dornbracht dornbracht.com
Lighting Control Systems Lutron Electronics lutron.com
Lighting Lucifer Lighting Co. luciferlighting.com
Masonry and Stone Northfield, an Oldcastle company northfieldblock.com
Paints and Finishes Benjamin Moore & Co. benjaminmoore.com
Roofing Sika Sarnafil (green roof assembly) usa.sarnafil.sika.com
Windows and Doors Dynamic Architectural Windows and Doors dynamicwindows.com