Sebastian Schmaling and Brian Johnsen describe their studio’s work as being “informed by a reading of site and terrain.” But don’t call it a philosophy. “We’ve always been suspicious of grandiose philosophical statements that can’t be backed up by an equally grandiose body of work,” says Schmaling. And grandiose the duo’s work is not. Since founding their four-person practice, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2003, Johnsen, 39, and Schmaling, 40, have made a name for themselves by designing buildings of near-monastic simplicity. Proportion, material, and setting reign supreme in the twosome’s work, rather than showmanship or formal flamboyance. The result is a collection of buildings with a sense of place and an unfussy precision.
The two met in 1995, while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After eight years of working together for a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based firm, they decided to become business partners at their own firm. “We wanted more control over the design process,” Johnsen explains, “and to focus our attention on a set of architectural issues that we were interested in exploring more seriously.” Those issues include how materials age and how built work relates and responds to its context. In their work, the “context” is generally a suburban one: The firm’s Ferrous House, which rethinks the classic ranch, and its linear OS House both ask the old residential typology to do new tricks, creating open and transparent spaces inside and more direct connections to the outdoors.