Photos by Hillary Ehlen and k.b. photography
Paul H. Gleye is a professor of architecture at North Dakota State University. His fields of expertise include historic preservation and urban design, and he leads the architecture school’s term abroad program in Europe each spring semester.
What are the essential elements of beauty in architecture? As new homes become larger and more complex, an architectural counter-movement is afoot that eschews unnecessary complexity and, instead, celebrates the beauty of clear organization and fine materials. This house on Lake Pickerel, S.D., designed by Jackson Strom of Chris Hawley Architects, exemplifies the minimalist approach in its three cubic forms that cascade down a slope toward the lake. At its core, the home is designed around the kitchen and dining area with bedrooms above. A second cube houses a living area with big windows looking out upon the lake, adjoined by an outdoor patio faced with ashlar stone masonry. The garage extends from the rear of the house as a third cube at the top of the slope.
A sleek stairway of elegant simplicity forms the focal point of the home and extends from basement to top. True to the architecture’s minimalist aesthetic, the stairwell rises alongside a wall of long horizontal slats that allow natural light to flow through the home. The handrail of clear, light maple is supported by black steel uprights and horizontal metal cables for minimal obstruction of the open interior space. Clean, open rooms filled with natural light are an essential feature of minimalist architecture, and the spacious quality of this home celebrates that design aesthetic.
Outside, and contrasting with the taut discipline of the architecture, the landscape is carefully worked to maintain the slope’s natural character, with stones stepping down to the lake. Trees and natural vegetation surround the home beyond the modest-sized lawn to lend a sense of seclusion.
Reducing architecture to its fundamental elements has a long history, in various ways dating back to the eighteenth century, but modern conceptions of minimalism in architecture and the arts emerged largely in the postwar years as various notions of “Modernism” vied for public attention. Today, as decorative features have increasingly come to define contemporary architecture, minimalism as a movement continues to occupy a significant niche in residential design, as displayed in this home. In that spirit, here the architecture features an elegant composition of basic patterns such as lines and planes, relying on the intrinsic aesthetic of fine building materials, finishes, and colors rather than applied decoration. Inside the home, modern-style furniture, fixtures and equipment, which are often minimalist in their own right, provide an open, clean and bright environment well-suited to our contemporary lifestyle.