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    Lecture - Sebastian Schmaling

    By RMartz
    Dec 27, '13 9:57 PM EST


    Welcome back everyone and Happy Holidays.  Playing catch-up on my part, on November 13th we were fortunate to have Sebastian Schmaling of Johnsen Schmaling Architects give a lecture in conjunction with this years AIA design awards, a cooperative event that takes place in Knowlton every year.  Johnsen Schmaling Architects is an award winning firm operating out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Themes permeating their work as a whole, he noted, are ideas of restraint and contextualism. Restraint in the use of materials, in both sustainable terms and a sense of frugality in making use of what’s at our disposal. He also discussed restraint in terms of form, positing himself behind orthogonality (logical, simple, and an basic fact of life). He argues that the formal possibilities of software are causing the profession to become parametrically driven, almost baroque, and this doesn’t make logical sense as a building tool. In discussing contextualism he stated that architects need to approach context with a sense of humility. “It doesn’t have to be loud…to be noticed or relevant” and by doing so the building is connected to it’s landscape rather than being self-referential. Two other themes that we could see clearly in their work was crisp detailing and very clear conceptual ideas. I’ve shuffled the order of the projects he presented according to their context, rural or suburban, but regardless I think you’ll see the above qualities throughout their whole body.


    The first project of the night, the Camouflage House, uses projection and color to situate itself in its forested location on the edge of a bluff. Essentiality a simple bar building, the skin was composed of a series of floor-to-ceiling panels and windows, reiterating the rhythm of tree trunks as you move through the forest. The panels are various colors; all abstracted from the colors of the woods through increasingly reduced resolutions. A particular detail in the lower floor takes place on the left wall of concrete (the right looks out over the bluff). In the wall they placed various pieces of wood in the formwork to reiterate the structure and then removed some before the concrete fully cured, leaving a rhythm of precise wood inserts and slightly rough concrete reveals. In their Topo House the site, abstracted, developed the 3 dimensional form, a series of strips with internal topography via stairs. The final form is a low slung roof lifting off the hill, in a landscape of rolling hills. On the façade a series of 200 individual steel fins create a rhythm meant to reference the flowing grasses of the surrounding fields. The last 2 projects take a slightly different formal approach. Their Studio for a Composer, while reiterating the colors and patterns of the forest through the patinaed corten steel façade, finds its strength in its minimalism. A simplistic floating box, beautifully detailed, becomes the perfect retreat for a country musician. Meanwhile the Stacked Cabin, as its name suggests, stacks the program of a traditional cabin into a 3 level structure. On the 2nd level (main living spaces), privacy is created through bright curtains that allow for open living or a “sensual” dimension.



    The suburban projects tend to deal with context through views, or lack there of. Drawing inspiration from censored documents, in which sensitive words are blacked out, the Redaction house is “an exercise in context avoidance”. Located in a small, tight lot there was one particular nice view straight ahead with neighbors to each side. The mass became a series of reductions, seen in the voids of the façade, all situated on a brick podium. The brick also becomes an entry wall that reduces in porosity as you enter. The façade also contains strips of color, inspired by the fiber artist for whom it was built. The OS House opens up rather than shutting out. The infill project in Racen, WI (home to FLW’s Johnson Wax) is one of their earlier projects, and in it they were challenged to design compact, sustainable, and contemporary within a conventional suburban context. Situated on a lake, most homes in the area create heavy walls. In the OS House, they opened up the site through a small footprint, a transparent base, and carved out voids. The “carves” become two outdoor, 2nd story patios whose perimeter, is reflected in the continuation of the steel I-beam lintel and base, and the aluminum scrim that surrounds it. Though compact, sight lines within the home are long to make it seem larger, and it should be noted that it was one of the first LEED Platinum homes in the Upper Midwest. For the 2nd to last project he showed the Downtown Gallery and Studio(in final development). The view of an existing piece of signage painted on the sites party wall became an entry component. Using this signage to define a transparent entry, the building then became formally generated by the site. Its unique location at the intersection of two city grids became the generator for a shearing between the first and second floors. The façade is a series of vertical mullions that allow views into the 1st floor gallery and 2nd floor studio.



    I began this post talking about detailing and I want to end with it too. In his final project he showed a small part of a project renovating the public spaces of the former Blatz Brewery, now offices and apartments. In the lounge space they developed 9’6” x 9’ doors, which are composed of 1,590 horizontally stacked empty beer bottles housed in CNC’d neoprene rings. “Illuminated on all sides, the brown bottles emanate a warm amber glow”, which conveniently became the perfect Segway into the cocktail hour that lead up to the awards ceremony. I highly recommend that you take some time to look in more detail at their work. It’s very well done and I think we all found his work inspiring. Once processed, the lecture video will be available at Keep an eye out for this coming semesters lecture schedule, which should be posted in the next few weeks.


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This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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