At BoutiqueHomes, we love when houses push the boundaries of design in innovative and playful ways that we’ve never seen before and could never even have imagined. Haus Gables in Atlanta, Georgia does just that.
Jennifer Bonner is the architectural designer behind this new ground-up residence, with an impressive resume as an Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Master in Architecture II Program at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and the founder of a creative practice for art and architecture called MALL.
It should be known right off the bat that Haus Gables is one of only two residences in the United States made entirely from cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is a sturdy wood-based material made by gluing layers of lumber together in alternating directions. It’s no surprise that Jennifer would choose to utilize an uncommon material like this for the basis of her design, seeing as her architectural practice hinges upon the unexpected. She engages with “ordinary architecture” in bold new ways, to “playfully reimagine architecture in her field.” Haus Gables is a testament to this mentality, with its deployment of gable roofs and faux-finished interiors.
We chatted with Jennifer recently about Haus Gables to get the inside scoop on her ground-breaking design.
How would you define your design aesthetic?
Jennifer Bonner: My work often begins with a question rather than a sketch, it starts conceptually, not formally which is why a lot of MALL’s projects tend to look differently, ranging from roof typologies to architectural sandwiches. The work relates directly to popular culture, it is graphic, and it takes a lot of cues from art practice. It’s also trying to be daring, by pushing materiality and the convention. As you can see in Haus Gables, I’m against flat roofs!
How would you describe Haus Gables?
JB: Haus Gables is a critique of the standard single-family house and it uses the DNA of traditional domestic roofs as a starting point, but aims to rethink tradition. It is comprised of three pairs of gable roofs with six gables in total. I exaggerated the pitches of these roofs, and the invention is in how I organize these gables to produce various spatial effects for dividing space. My earlier research in roof typologies has most certainly informed the form of the house, building up what I would like to think of a methodology of a “roofplan” as opposed to the “floorplan” which is what we are all very familiar with. That is to say the “roofplan” has the potential to be replicated and reworked depending on site and location. It is a diagram that could be transformed. Haus Gables is an experimental house which could be thought of as a proof of concept. It bucks tradition and radically pushes structure, materials, and innovation in construction assembly.
What’s so special to you about CLT? Why did you want to build a house made entirely from it?
JB: When designing Haus Gables, I was interested in experimenting with form and structure to produce a spatially complex interior within the constraints of a small urban lot in Atlanta. Cross-laminated timber is an innovative wood product that allows for precise construction and fast on-site installation. CLT challenges traditional wood framing and results in a more “solid” construction technique. Everything is pre-cut in the factory, allowing for a plug and play of electrical and water services on-site. CLT is a no-waste product as all off-cuts are re-used for biomass heating. I was very much interested in building a house that is spatially different to traditional single family homes and this includes a desire to question the materiality on the interior. In Haus Gables, white drywall is exchanged for a milky white soft wood. I worked with a fantastic team of engineers and my mentor, Hanif Kara of London’s AKT II, encouraged me to experiment with CLT within the US.
How did you conceptualize the distinct style of each room of the home? Where did your bold use of color and shape come from?
JB: Each room of the house is created using the geometry of the roof plan above. Rooflines, such as ridges, valleys and peaks produce spatial consequences on the interior subdividing space and allowing for rooms to nest inside larger gables above. When designing the project, I worked through several ideas of color in both digital and physical models. To test materiality, we made a doll house model at the scale of 1:12. When furnishing the house, I looked for pieces designed by female furniture designers. This became a primary way of filtering the furniture selections and the doll house was the backdrop to imagine the color and shape of each room. These female designers boldly utilize material, form, and color in their work and include Ray Eames, Jessica Nakanishi of M-S-D-S Studio, Stine Gam of GamFratesi Studio, Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell, Annie Hieronimus for Ligne Roset, Patricia Urquiola, Aino Aalto, Laurel Consuelo Broughton, and Ragnheiður Ösp.
Can you elaborate on your use of faux-finishes for the interiors?
JB: Conceptually, I was interested in an old tradition found in the American South—faux finishing. Floor and wainscoting materials are comprised of a series of “faux finishes” made of thin terrazzo tiles; vinyl that looks like concrete, marble, and wood; and ceramic tiles that look like a cartoon drawing of marble or oriented strand board (OSB). These faux finishes are a visual counterpoint to the aesthetic of the CLT interior. The materials are colorful and graphic telling a visual story as you pass through room-by-room. For each room the faux finishes are mapped onto the space three-dimensionally as a wedge of color, flooding the rooms. They are intentionally meant to read like “stickers” stuck on the wall as a thin veneer.
Is Haus Gables a “prefabricated” design?
JB: I suppose Haus Gables would be considered a pre-fab house because the main superstructure was fabricated in a factory in Austria, but I do not think of it as “pre-fab” in the traditional sense. The term “prefabrication” suggests a prototype or something that could be easily reproduced. I do not imagine the house to be replicated in the same way a pre-fab structure could be copied/pasted onto another site.
What are your future plans for Haus Gables?
JB: My next project is to look for development partners who would be interested in building approximately 12-15 single family houses on a small plot in the city of Atlanta. I would spearhead and organize 3 other architects to join me in designing a small urban experiment with all houses made completely out of CLT. I believe this experiment would further push ideas about collective housing and challenge the conventions of urban neighborhoods.
Are you working on any other projects?
JB: I am currently working with THIS X THAT to develop a spec office tower which is called Office Stack. The project is a mid-rise office tower that works through the architectural stack by delaminating floor plates into a series of five individual buildings. The tower is reshuffled into a sandwich typology where multiple co-tenants determine the image of the building based upon a 5-stack massing and facade materiality.