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Orchard Willow

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A new urban living experience that directly connects interior and exterior living spaces.

With thoughtful design, the Orchard Willow Residence and its surrounding landscape insist that exposure to nature and desired privacy can co-exist in a dense urban neighborhood. The home bookends a row of repetitive single family residential lots to the north. To the south is a neighborhood elementary school whose parking lot and playground form a seventy five foot separation from the school building. The owners quickly realized that their site did not have to be bound by property lines. They believed it was worth fostering a relationship with their new neighbor and improvements made to the school would benefit everyone. Working with the school directly, the parking area was re-configured and re-built to allow for a safer bus drop off system and teacher parking area, while the asphalt playground was replaced with a new artificial turf field that is safer and can be used year round. This transformation has effectively created a new public park that the entire neighborhood is able to enjoy after school and on the weekends.

Privacy was achieved by eliminating the conventional basement and setting the first floor directly at natural grade. A board-formed concrete wall poured just above eye level encircles the property. The textural wall provides complete visual privacy within the garden, allowing much of the wooden framed interior living space to be enclosed with glass. Large sliding doors and a continuous stone floor connect the interior and exterior as a single living space. Above the wooden pavilion, a narrow, copper clad volume floats on a clerestory band of windows, bringing light deep into the broad ground floor living areas beneath it. Containing two floors of private bedrooms, the copper volume is more opaque and insular than the open living space below. Within the bedrooms, deeply recessed balconies are carved out of the copper enclosure to form light courts that shade the glazing, provide privacy and direct views away from the neighboring school, to the distant Chicago skyline and sunset.

The distinction between family living areas at the ground and private sleeping areas above is further reinforced with a noticeable shift in the material palette. At the ground level, natural materials that closely connect to the garden outside, weather and patina over time, and allow aging to be an acceptable transformation of the home. The texture and irregularity of the board-formed concrete walls allow for eventual cracks. Wood siding, initially oiled, is left to grey and a stone floor that extends out to the enclosed garden takes on the seasonal stains of tree leaves. Ascending the blackened steel and walnut stair to the upper floors, however, walls transition to simple white plaster. Millwork is detailed to feel more like furniture, where private rooms become containers for personal belongings. Window openings are cleanly incised, framing specific distant views. This material changes acknowledge the shift to private spaces but also creates a distinction in how the world outside is experienced from within them.

Interiors: Wheeler Kearns Architects (Sharlene Young, founder of Symbiotic Living)
Landscape Architecture: Mckay Landscape Architects
General Contractor: Norcon, Inc.
Photography: Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing