Designed by David O’Brien Wagner

with Sara Whicher, Chris Meyer and Sara Maas

The homeowners desired a year-round getaway that could access the wilderness of the BWCA and the cultural amenities of Grand Marais. They required a plan to accommodate their dynamic space needs- to expand for family gatherings as well as for frequent social get-togethers and to contract to allow for intimate, couple-only weekends.

The owners also wanted a house to reflect their environmental values- in form, placement, construction and operation. Project Description
Aerie’s design is a response to the owners’ direct programmatic needs and to its unique site. The property’s features include access to a secluded lake within the Superior National Forest and a picturesque and densely wooded terrain. Its challenges include a steep north-facing slope and a meandering seasonal stream that flows through the most accessible portion of the site.

These site qualities strongly influence the placement, shape and layout of the home. To protect the stream, the parking area was pulled away from the home and a narrow footbridge connects with it to carry visitors across the stream to the home’s entry. The house itself is situated to preserve a large cedar tree which the owners requested be kept from harm.

Highlighted through a series of axial alignment with windows, the cedar tree becomes intertwined with the experience of moving throughout the home. This experience culminates with a two-story-tall window that dramatically reveals the full height of the cedar tree.

The aesthetic language of the home responds to the primitive nature of its remote location and the industrial and mining heritage of the North Shore region. The shed roof, wood interiors, corrugated zinc siding, stone flooring and exposed structural system reflect the local vernacular of pragmatism, utility and functional beauty.

The home is broken into three distinct pieces–an entry/stair tower, a main living box and a guest wing. The effect is a series of smaller volumes that reduce the scale of this 3294 square foot home, decrease the impact on the densely forested site and create a sense of discovery with each unfolding turn of the floor plan. This separation also allows the house to contract for environmental and practical reasons. The guest wing can be completely closed off when not in use (plumbing is kept to the main building only) and the tower can be closed off and kept to a lower temperature during the heating season. In the cooling season the tower acts as a thermal chimney expelling warm air out the top and drawing cool air in at the bottom.

Sustainable strategies include geothermal heating, solar electric power, LED and compact fluorescent lighting, rainwater catchment and filtration, grey water and black water treatment [eliminating onsite septic], a highly insulated thermal envelope and triple-pane windows.

Construction by Construction by North Shore Builders
Photographs by Troy Thies

AIA MN/StarTribune Home of the Month, 2013

StarTribune, October 2013
Architecture Minnesota, May/June 2012