This Modernist House Was Designed With The Outside in Mind

From the street, this 3,500 square foot home is seen resting long and flat atop a meadow, surrounded by a wooded terrain in Indianapolis, IN.

Completed in 2016 by New York-based architecture firm Deborah Berke Partners, this North Penn House was built to minister to a family of five, who were looking to start living more closely connected to nature.

With the landscape changing according to season, the homeowners wished that the modern home design would take advantage of the surrounding terrain and that indoors would connect to outdoors regardless of the time of the year. We spoke to project leader Noah Biklen about the project and what steps were made to meet wishes of the client.

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Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house and its owners?

The husband discovered the property, which was not too far away from their existing house, while running through a wooded trail. They saw the property as an opportunity to build house that could allow them to live in a different way—to be more connected to the outdoors. The views of the topography and landscape change throughout the year and are ever present in the house.

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What did your clients ask for in their brief?

They asked for a house for a family of five that was sited to take advantage of the property’s wooded topography and views overlooking a meadow.

They wanted to embrace indoor/outdoor living and to appreciate the changing seasons. Inside, they wanted compact private spaces and open, generous public spaces, encouraging the family to spend time together. They wanted a home to be with their family and for occasional entertaining.

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What was your approach for the project?

The concept was long single volume for the house with a large, overhanging roof sited at the top of a slope overlooking a lower meadow.

Visual transparency at the public spaces allows you to see through the house and have expansive views of the surrounding trees and meadow. The private spaces have a more intimate relationship with the landscape. Sliding floor to ceiling glass doors and Indiana limestone terraces encourage indoor/outdoor living.

READ ALSO: The Modernist Woodland House by Altus Architecture, Disappears in The Landscape

Which the most important feature of this house and why?

We were able to create a real sense of place throughout the house through the strong connection to the landscape, and through just a few careful moves; a sense of place does not require a heavy hand. The strong horizontal line of the house helps to define the site.

What materials have you used for this project and why?

We combined zinc panels on the outside with mahogany framed glass sliding doors and Indiana limestone pavers.

On the interior we incorporated reclaimed heart pine with limestone floors and brass hardware accents. We looked for materials that could wear and show a patina with use and weathering.

What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment?

How can a few simple moves set up a rewarding relationship to the outdoors, and at the same time enhance the experience of the entire site?

How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any?

Our clients took an exciting risk in wanting to change how they live — to living more closely connected to the outdoors, to natural light, to the changing seasons. As both the architect and interior designer for the project, we worked with the clients at all scales to achieve this vision.

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The Modernist aesthetic still inspires many young architects. Why do you think this is the case?

The interest in combining technological advances with a more direct relationship to the surrounding environment remains very relevant to some of the questions we are concerned with today.

I find the sense of optimism and belief in the power of design to be a very compelling legacy of the mid-century modern designers.

Why do you think it’s important to continue producing houses/buildings that conform to modernist design principles?

I think there are many ways to build well for today. I would say that that building simply with a direct relationship to the outdoors and informed by site and climate, in which the architecture frames and sustains everyday experience, can be socially sustainable. It is important to design buildings that are loved and used well.

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Photos Chris Cooper, Glint Studios, and Kevin Miyazaki

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