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Presentation shows what architects did

Beautiful catalog details concepts, work that won national award

By Dorothy Shinn

Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

An important part of winning such an award as 2003 American Architecture
Award from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design is in
the presentation of the work.

Half-Life House's beautifully designed presentation catalog by Jason
Turnidge contains perspective drawings, site plans and elevations. It
shows how Thom Stauffer, with his design team (Greg Stroh, Kent State
adjunct professor of architecture; Jonathan Kurtz; Matt Hutchinson;
Elizabeth Leidy; and Turnidge) found a way to reorganize and expand the
dwelling so that it not only worked better as a residence, but could now
lay claim to significant design elements used by important innovators in
contemporary architecture.

In particular, the house now has features close to both the Raumplan of
Adolf Loos and the Plan Libre of Le Corbusier.

Loos is the Austrian architect credited for beginning the attack on
architectural ornamentation with his 1908 polemic, Ornament and Crime.

The Raumplan -- arrived at through Loos' Steiner House in Vienna,
Austria, a white, flat-roofed dwelling with a stark, boxlike garden
front -- is also known as the ``plan of volumes,'' which reached its
apex in complex split-level houses.

Despite the external severity, Loos could not resist rich materials for
the interiors.

Le Corbusier, along with Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, was a
highly influential designer in the years immediately after World War II.
Corbusier developed a sensual sculptural style, variously expressed in
the medium of concrete.

In his Plan Libre, Corbusier takes inspiration from the primitive, in
particular African masks and huts.

Employing strategies derived from Modernism, Le Corbusier's theories
reverse traditional practices, based on five rules:

• The Pilotis (columnar support system), a reversal of the classical podium.

• The ``roof terrace,'' which contradicts the pitched roof and replaces
the attic story with an open-air room.

• The Fenetre en Longueur, a contradiction of the classical window
opening in which the window is not a vertical, but a horizontal, element.

• The ``free facade,'' supplanting the regular arrangement of window
openings with a freely composed surface.

• The ``free plan,'' which replaces vertically continuous structural
walls with a free arrangement of partitions determined by function.

His Villa Savoye of 1929 is conceived as a sculptural object -- inspired
in part by African masks and/or their interpretations in Cubist
sculptures -- set against a plain backdrop of grass, with the building
separated from its background through sculptural features.

These elements can be seen in some degree in Half-Life House both in
plan and elevation:

• The reconfiguration and expansion of the half-octagon living room,
reconceived as a great room, resulting in a masklike shape in plan.

• The redesign of the link between the main house and garage so it
becomes a viewing platform over a pristine rectangle of cut grass on the
one hand and a picturesque wooded gorge on the other.

• The removal of as many continuous structural walls as possible,
replacing them with a meandering open space between five functional
areas: the kitchen, the living room/great room; two bedrooms with three
baths (two of them new); and an office.

• The removal of the old stucco and replacement with a smoother, more
crystalline stucco surface, painted white and beautifully accented with
scored and polished concrete, exterior lead-coated copper cladding and
exposed steel installations.