Modern Home Strikes a Balance Between Indoors & Out
See how precise window placement, striking contrasts and native plantings bring nature into the rooms of this Fargo, North Dakota home designed by Stahl Architects and Land Elements.
A Window Links Interior Spaces with the Outside World
Fargo, North Dakota is prairie country where Dr. William Wosick's state of the art modern home in the wilds of this rugged country demonstrate the dynamic contrast created when strict lines blend with the serendipity of the natural world. He sought a dwelling suited to his collection of modern art for a perfect milieu of structure and space. Here the owner and architect had planned a solid wall, but while in the framing stage the forest beyond proved so compelling the window was added. When interior spaces link to the world outside via such openings, there is a powerful sense that the exterior spaces are purposefully integrated into the structural design.
Plants Set the Textural Character of the Grounds
The landscape for this modern home is a study in contrasts of color, form and texture. Crisp architectural lines and metallic sheeting are clean, quasi industrial forms devoid of texture and for the most part, color too. Such neutrals allow plants to set the textural character of the grounds. These tall prairie grasses are an ever changing color palette with each season bringing a different character as they rise, bloom, then turn autumn hues at season's end. Note how only part of the grassland is mowed, which allows the same planting to take on two very different looks.
A Metal Seatwall Contrasts with Nature
Contrast is indeed the most powerful design tool. When a natural tree grove with its many trunks and twisted branches is bisected by a solid, Galvalume seatwall, the contrast is about as extreme as it comes. Contrast makes both the forest and walls more visibly present when set against each other. Nature is chaotic in the fight for survival, while modern art is incredibly precise. This juxtaposition draws our view deep into the tree grove making this entire forest part of the project and the home's interior even though it's virtually untouched.
Raised Beds Create Elevation Changes for this Flat Site
Perhaps the biggest challenge to such a flat site is creating elevation changes no matter how slight they may appear. In winter, this simple walk way separates the raised beds from the building to make snow removal simpler. The masonry bed walls hold recessed night lighting to make the walk safe after dark. Their repetition helps to reduce the overall impact of this multistory wall and when viewed from afar, its base is glimpsed only through the gaps between planters. There is also a suggestion of control where the wild grasses mature and flower in the rectangular beds while the surrounding grass is closely cropped for a tidy facade.
Perennial Prairie Grasses Make this Composition Sing
This view shows how well the individual raised planters break up the base of the large wood building wall into glimpses of open space or views through the grass flower spikes. The metallic panel walls are treated differently, perhaps due to their resilience when plants grow right up to the foundation. Here blue grama, one of the most common local perennial prairie grasses is shorter and well suited for a large swath beneath the trees. It's the fine textured appeal of grasses that makes this composition sing; with each component standing out in sharp focus.
A Native Plant Palette Proves Reliable & Long-Lived
Sharp lines and simple materials set in stark contrast against the background of the South Dakota woodland prairie. This design solution with its simple extension of native grasses is thankfully low maintenance in every season. Native plant choices are super adapted to local climate and rainfall, proving reliable, long lived species that will survive the extreme years of heat or cold that often destroy gardens with less rugged plant choices.
A Simple Entry Lets the Surroundings Shine
Often modern architecture does not rely on big splashy entries as is common with more traditional design that relies on symmetrical division of space. Here the entry is played down visually, though there is no question where visitors should go. It's a great example how simple landscapes can eliminate "noise" from the sense of arrival so that the long range view is taken in rather than an over emphasized entry experience. The closeness of the woodland is vital to reducing the impact of the overall mass of the structure, and it allows light to filter through for varied shadow patterns that would be wholly absent from this house if built out in the open prairie.
Flowering Plants Provide Splashes of Color
This side of the house is less monolithic with these extruded surfaces and larger windows. Planting here is more diverse, with designers relying on prairie perennials perfectly adapted to growing within vast stands of native grasses. These flowering plants are the only color in this landscape not part of the building itself. The tall prairie coneflower with its beautiful magenta blossoms and black-eyed Susans bloom over summer, then the cone shaped seed heads bring hungry birds close to the windows for uninterrupted observance.
Ferns Grow Happily in a Protected, Shady Corner
Two story glass windows bring in the morning light on the east side and glowing afternoon sunsets out the west. This small space is well protected by structures on both sides allowing special planting at the floor of the windows where it’s shady. Here many of the native ferns that no doubt stud the glades of surrounding forest can find similar conditions here. Fern fronds are so beautiful they make a fine subject for this sequestered location with its high impact visibility.
Large Fixed Windows Bring the Landscape Inside
The client, Dr. Wosick, "wanted to look out and experience the sense of the outside even when the seasons don't allow it." So the natural solution is these large fixed glass windows that bring the surrounding wild landscape into the adjacent rooms. The recessed light fixtures lend subtle illumination to the wild grasses or snow fields for an ethereal nocturnal view.
Native Plantings Live on Natural Rainfall
The landscape architects selected the most visually interesting native plants to enhance the site and architecture. The two grass flower heads are from Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans and blue grama, Bouteloua gracilis. Black chokecherry, Aronia melanocapra var. elata is a first class wildlife lure. Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo' features bronze tinted foliage for contrast against so much green grass. As natives these plants will live strictly on natural rainfall once well established, but in the early years they may require supplemental watering during the dry season.
Square Windows Display a Tree in an Art-Like Fashion
Large square windows provide the ideal terminal view for this hall where Wosick's modern art collection is displayed. The high window draws light into the darker wood paneling above. Down below the same tree is framed in a wholly different way. When a house is designed to view the garden in this way, there will be continuous change in the plants as they transition from season to season. Just imagine the bare trees standing under snow in winter and how specific outdoor lighting techniques can give the dormant forest its own natural light.
Windows Placed During Construction Reveal the Landscape's Natural Beauty
There is often a disconnect in the planning stages of a home like this. Designers strive to meet the client's needs on paper, but in the three dimensional world the view is very different. Once the view shed is seen from within the bones of a structure, it's often the first time the client has experienced the vision already in the architect and landscape architect's minds. When they grasp the magnitude of the space for the first time, the owner will finally see the forms and barriers that either call for more openings or larger ones to better enjoy this natural beauty.
Corner Windows Highlight the Contrast Between Indoors & Out
Whenever views from the interior can access the landscape on two planes through corner windows, the stark interior does not feel quite so hard and cold. Of all the materials used in this interior, only the wood floor links to the view. This striking difference between unruly natural understory perennials and grasses and the hard cold interior surfaces is the essence of this striking photo.
Read the photographer’s account of photographing this property in Prairie Modern: A House and Garden in Fargo, North Dakota