Midwest Retreat

This retreat is located on a 700-acre site in the rolling hills of rural Iowa. The building is approached from the south, by way of an existing gravel drive that traverses prairie and woodland. The retreat is sited in an existing clearing, and is surrounded by the restored prairie that is allowed to grow up to the building's perimeter. The client restored much of the prairie to its native state with guidance from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Because of it’s siting in this clearing, as well as its form and materiality, the building echoes the agrarian typologies of the region. The building is elongated in an east/west direction to maximize daylight control and to highlight views of the lake to the east and the lone tree to the west.

Designed as a venue for both social and business gatherings, the retreat has dual uses. Because of this, the programmatic relationships and requirements depart in subtle but important ways from that of a typical residence. The functional parti clearly separates the social spaces in the continuously gabled wood volume above from the support spaces in the concrete box below. In addition to creating a clear separation of support and social spaces, the location of primary gathering areas on the second floor provides access to views and increased opportunity for natural ventilation. At the functional heart of this second floor space is a large, flexible open area bordered by three fixed functional elements: a large hearth, a low kitchen, and an antique bar previously acquired by the client. These key components provide definition to the space and support its social activities. A single bathroom on the upper level is configured to allow a high degree of openness for semi-private functions such as hand washing, while retaining enclosure of the private elements and functions. Each of the two guest bedrooms at the west end are designed to serve as a sleeping area, office space or exercise room, and as such their openness is also heightened.

In addition to proper orientation, the project uses numerous strategies to reduce its environmental impact. It is heated and cooled by a geothermal system. The mechanical system is zoned to allow independent conditioning of the caretaker's unit, the guest rooms and the main living space. Closed-cell spray foam insulation in the building envelope reduces infiltration and the need for an additional vapor barrier. Operable windows and ceiling fans promote natural ventilation. Eight-foot overhangs are employed at both ends to shade the low-e glass. Reclaimed wood is used for interior and exterior cladding, and its natural preservatives ensure that exterior finish products are not required. No finish was used on this same wood at the interior walls and ceiling.

Because the retreat will be used intermittently, low-maintenance solutions are important. Instead of gutters, water drains directly off the roof into a French drain filled with local limestone running continuously around the building's perimeter. The chimney mass sits within this gravel perimeter, and is also constructed of limestone. Mechanical inlets and outlets are protected from the weather, concealed at the top of the concrete wall behind the extension of the wood rain screen. The concrete base, naturally preserved wood cladding, and metal roof all contribute to this long-life, low-maintenance strategy.

The building is organized to achieve maximum efficiency and minimum waste. The gable is a continuous array of scissor trusses from east to west. Walls are framed with eight-foot studs that did not require cutting. Standard reusable concrete formwork establishes the two-foot module of the building. The wood cladding is coordinated with this two-foot module inside and out. By employing a reverse board and batten strategy, the cladding adheres to an 8-inch module while allowing for the use of standard 7 1/4 inch boards. Space is enclosed and defined as minimally as possible, while still providing necessary programmatic separation. Measures such as these contribute to a construction cost that is less than $225 per square foot.


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  • Erin Gehle
    Erin Gehle updated 42 media, uploaded 6 media and updated
    Midwest Retreat Midwest Retreat Midwest Retreat Midwest Retreat Midwest Retreat Midwest Retreat
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com