In a suburb outside Detroit filled with early 20th-century houses, Sivak designed the ultimate concrete box.
Architects & Firms
“The key word for this project was 'alignment,' ” says Ann Arbor, Michigan–based architect Steven Sivak. For years he was fascinated by cast-in-place concrete but never had the chance to build with it. Then he met Linda Dresner—the owner of an eponymous well-known designer boutique, in Birmingham, Michigan—whom Sivak calls a “severe, minimalist modernist.” He also met her husband, part-owner of a ready-mix concrete company. “This is my chance,” Sivak thought.
In a suburb outside Detroit filled with early 20th-century houses, Sivak designed the ultimate concrete box. It sits on a Cor-Ten–sided grassy plinth that negotiates the site's topographic changes and emphasizes its objecthood. (Neighbors tried to stop the project but were unsuccessful; aesthetics, at least in Birmingham, cannot be regulated.)
Completely blank on its street-facing elevation and where the corners turn, the two-story house appears to be a bunker. Daylight is plentiful on the interior, thanks to an almost entirely glazed rear facade and ample skylights as well as narrow incisions that conceal an entrance and windows.
Sivak's model was Tadao Ando's Pulitzer Arts Foundation building in St. Louis, Missouri. To achieve a similar glass-smooth finish, the architect used CNC-milled phenolic-coated birch plywood formwork and self-consolidating concrete (SCC). Developed in Japan and mainly used in the U.S. for commercial projects, Sivak learned of SCC from Dresner's husband; the mixture includes a chemical that makes the concrete pour like water. “It was not an easy journey,” says the architect, or an inexpensive one. “It took a lot of prototyping, experimentation, and uncertainty.”
Inside the house, Sivak's strategy was to be “as visually quiet as possible.” Granite flooring covers the ground level while white oak gives the second story a warmer tone. Sivak says: “Having worked on this project, I have tremendous insight into this minimalist arm of modernism. I want to do a stone house next.”
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Gross square footage:
7,500 sq ft.
Exterior concealed heavy duty hinges:
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