Ages: 37 (Swackhamer), 40 (Satterfield)
Firm: HouMinn Practice, Houston and Minneapolis
Other: Satterfield and Swackhamer began their design collaboration as Fleece Design while students at Rice University in Houston. When Swackhamer moved to Minneapolis to teach at the University of Minnesota, they took the first syllable from each city to rename the firm.
How did your collaboration get started?
Satterfield: We began with a housing competition. There has been a natural progression focusing on the details of the house. Neither of us had an agenda to do R&D work.
Swackhamer: I got a grant from the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota that enabled us to build a full-scale prototype of our entry. We've prototyped three or four projects, Drape Wall being one of them and Cloak Wall being the most recent.
Satterfield: Manipulating the form of the house has its limitations, but when you move into the wall section, you move into performance parts of the house. Look at a car, airplanes, sportswear. You see intelligence invested in the surface and the skin. We felt there's a territory between the inside and the outside envelope that has been ignored.
“Cloak” and “drape” both imply large enclosures. Yet bricks tend to be small units.
Satterfield: “Cloak” and “drape” refer to the interior skin of the walls. The bricks act as sort of an exoskeleton for the assembly. It's the reverse of a typical wall, where the weather seal is on the outside. In our project, the weather seal is the innermost layer, and this “drape” surface handles the intelligence of the wall.
Swackhamer: The bricks are a rainscreen. They're not the primary weatherproofing.
So it's waterproof zippers that allow you to penetrate the surface?
Swackhamer: We took the low-tech approach to ventilation, where someone on a nice day could unzip a bunch of pockets on the inside of the wall to let air flow through it. On a stormy day, those could be zipped back up. The waterproof zippers—used in high-tech, high-performance climbing gear—keep the water out. The zippers could be applied to insulative surfaces, allowing the drape to be quite thick and insulated.
Can you point to any architectural precedents for zippers in buildings?
Satterfield: Marc and I look outside of traditional practice. Tent structures and shelter are a starting point. We look at gaskets, sailing gear, and performance sports gear as a way of bringing that into a more architectural setting.
Swackhamer: We examined a Nike shirt. It was woven in such a way that the thickness of the material changed as the shirt moved around the body. Under the armpits and on the back where you sweat a lot, the fabric was really thin. In areas where a shirt would wear out quicker, like around the elbows and around the shoulders, the fabric thickened. Because of the way the fabric was woven, it had an impact on the appearance of the shirt. That's interesting to us—that a performative requirement you're trying to meet instigates an aesthetic to the project.
It seems both of you are overly concerned with clothing.
Satterfield: You wouldn't know it by looking at us.
How does the two-city collaboration work? How do you bring people from other disciplines into the process?
Swackhamer: It offers us different collaborators and opportunities. I'm part of a digital design consortium at the university—computer scientists, engineers, as well as architects. The collaborations evolve through conversation and trying to meet people who do interesting work.
Satterfield: We see rapid development of ideas in the application of technology in fashion or industrial techniques. You get more lifecycles out of shirts than you do watching a building be constructed. We look at things that are moving quickly, and we apply them to a slower technology like architecture.
Are there plans for a building-scale installation?
Swackhamer: We would love to build this. I think the stars have to align with the client, site, and conditions.
Satterfield: Maybe some enlightened client will see our project in ARCHITECT and jump at the chance.