6 July 2007

Urs Peter Flueckiger - House on 21st Street

Urs Peter Flueckiger
House on 21st Street (NYTimes)

Good so see an economical house built on a very tight buget, that's still great to live in.













NyTimes Article:
By PAIGE WILLIAMS
The first thing to know about the house Urs Peter Flueckiger built is that he did it for the startlingly low price of $51 a square foot, $50.87 to be exact, by using the kind of bulk metal siding usually associated with airplane hangars and toolsheds. The second thing to know is where he did it: here in the high plains of West Texas, one of the flattest, starkest, most sun-seared places on earth.

The land around Lubbock is so flat you can see every steeple, every water tower, every truck kicking up dust a mile away. On a clear day the sun burns like a klieg light, with little vegetation to filter it. Mr. Flueckiger likes to say West Texas is 80 percent sky and 20 percent earth.

As you might guess, Flueckiger (pronounced FLOO-kigger) is not a good old Texas name. Mr. Flueckiger — known as Upe (OO-pay) — comes from the Swiss Alps, about as topographically opposite the high plains as one could imagine. He arrived in Lubbock by way of Lugano, where he worked with the architect Mario Botta; Manhattan, where he worked as an architect for David Rockwell; and Blacksburg, Va., where he earned a master's degree in architecture at Virginia Tech.

To celebrate the completion of his master's, Mr. Flueckiger treated himself to a trip to see the work of the late Donald Judd, the minimalist art pioneer who lived in Marfa, in deep West Texas. As it happened Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, was looking for an architecture professor at the time. Much as Mr. Flueckiger loved his Upper East Side apartment and the nearby museums and gliding through Central Park on his Rollerblades, he loved Judd more. In the fall of 1998 he began teaching at Texas Tech and making six-hour treks to Marfa, to begin what would become seven years of sketching Judd's art and architecture. (This fall Birkhäuser will publish the drawings in book form.)
Judd's work electrified Mr. Flueckiger, especially in the context of the landscape: vast cotton fields and bobbing hobbyhorses of scattered oil rigs and unpretentiously handsome warehouses and cotton gins of corrugated steel. "As a newcomer to this area I don't bring associations of hardship and work with these particular rural industrial buildings," he said.

Then came another pleasant development. An art professor and painter named Carol Fitzgerald worked on his floor at the university. As Mr. Flueckiger likes to say, "We found love in Lubbock." The artist and the architect married in 2001 and soon started looking for a house.

Lubbock, like everyplace else, was growing suburbs. New home construction was pushing the city west. The Flueckigers preferred Tech Terrace, an 80-year-old neighborhood opposite the university where houses generally sell for $50,000 to $300,000 in a menagerie of styles. They considered moving into an existing home or renovating one, but then Ms. Flueckiger basically said, You're an architect — design something.

"In academia research is such a big part of being a professor," she said. "I just thought, Let's push it. It's a project." As Mr. Flueckiger put it, "Because we love modernism, this became a laboratory."

They bought and demolished a dilapidated 800-square-footer, leaving a lot 50 by 150 feet. Mr. Flueckiger chose to build with industrial materials in homage to the region's history but also to prove that it was possible to create an affordable, durable house that was beautiful and interesting to live in. He began envisioning his design as an alternative to modernist prefabs, many of which sell for about $250 a square foot.

Mr. Flueckiger knew he could design a family home for considerably less, without compromising the design. Painted corrugated steel (more expensive than galvanized but certainly less blinding) cost about $2.50 a square foot. Concrete poured on the site ran about $3.50 a square foot, which included the foundation footings beneath the slab. Sliding glass doors with insulated float glass cost $510, including screen and installation.

Mr. Flueckiger first designed a two-story house with a wall of windows and 15 skylights. He and his wife — who has long experimented with color and texture in her own work — chose to paint the cladding red because it contrasts, rather than competing, with sky and grass.

But this was Texas. Corrugated metal is for the farm, not the family. And two stories? And red? The contractors weren't wild about building such an experimental house, and some neighbors weren't wild about their building it. Yet Mr. Flueckiger met the most resistance from Ms. Flueckiger, regarding the rising cost. As they like to say now, just because you're a two-income family doesn't mean you should spend like one. Mr. Flueckiger had to redesign.
"My dream shattered," he said. "Then my wife brought me back to the ground and said: 'Well, look, you're creative. Why can't you design within the budget?' "

In a day's time Mr. Flueckiger designed the house the Flueckigers now share with their 3-year-old son, Lucas. They saved money by reducing the house to one story and cutting half the windows, and by using wire racks and metal footlockers instead of built-in closets, maple kitchen cabinets without hardware, and kitchen countertops of white plastic laminate instead of granite or tile. The furniture Mr. Flueckiger made himself: floor lamps of rebar and twine; a work desk of glass and welded steel; bookshelves, tables and chairs of sturdy blond Baltic birch plywood finished with tung oil, if finished at all. (These call Judd's furniture to mind, with whimsical variations and cutouts.)

Together the Flueckigers designed a signature piece: a coffee table of his woodwork and, beneath a layer of glass, her embedded painting. (They have since added two Hans Coray aluminum patio chairs, a Botta Seconda chair, a tomato red Karlanda sofa from Ikea and a set of 1960's Eames fiberglass chair shells that they had retrofitted by Modernica.)

From the street the house has a low profile. Alternating bands of concrete block form the facade; the house stretches directly back, like a railroad apartment. "You really don't know what's going on in this house until you enter," Mr. Flueckiger said.

From the foyer the view shoots the length of the house. Three bedrooms and two and a half baths are flanked symmetrically by Ms. Flueckiger's art studio on the north end and Mr. Flueckiger's design studio on the south, all bracketing the courtyard. ("My wife says it's like a Swiss Army knife.") The first and lasting impression is one of playful comfort and warmth, of intimacy yet spaciousness, the collaborative results of Mr. Flueckiger's architecture and Ms. Flueckiger's art.

Ms. Flueckiger balanced the minimalist design with unexpectedly graceful whimsy. In the foyer and living room she painted the dominant wall apple green. With leafy limbs from a nonfruiting mulberry outside their newlyweds' apartment she created a pastel silhouette on two highly visible interior doors, infusing softness and emotion. Her weather-themed paintings spiritually connect to the courtyard. Even the smooth concrete floor, with a chemical sealer to repel moisture, echoes Ms. Flueckiger's influence with natural traces of blue, as in marble.

The centerpiece is a loftlike living space and kitchen, separated from the courtyard by five sets of sliding glass doors and clerestory windows. The sliding doors open beneath a bamboo and steel pergola and onto a grassy patch of pecan trees, Japanese-inspired rock beds and a cedar fence where the Flueckigers plan to plant black bamboo.
"Those long, tall windows bring in the comfort of the grass," said Tina Fuentes, who is interim director of the Texas Tech art school and has visited the red house. "With the volumes of sandstorms we have in West Texas, when you have carpet all this stuff gets trapped in there and you find yourself cleaning constantly. And on the issue of heat, what a nice feeling to be able to move barefoot from the grass to the coolness of the concrete, that transition of texture." (The house is heated and cooled by a forced-air system fueled with electricity.)

It's in the conjoined living space that the house feels particularly alive. Light plays across red ridges, through bamboo slats and tree limbs like a slide show of shadow.

"It's a very sensitive house," Mr. Flueckiger said.

It was a weirdly frigid West Texas morning. A mad and wrenching wind moved unfettered across the high plains. But inside the red house Lucas was in sock feet with toys on the living room floor, playing by the light of the courtyard and the lamps his father made.


Via: NYTimes, MocoLoco

1 comment:

John Commoner said...

I really like this place. Every time I see it, I think "it can be done" - hip and unique, yet affordable, family home. Too cool.