Designed by David O’Brien Wagner
Metal Lark sits within 140 acres of former farm fields. The rolling woodland and prairie have been replanted with native prairie grasses by the owners. The specific site was selected for its overlook to a small lake, as well as the shade provided by a mature line of trees at the crest of the hill. By setting the building just downslope from the tree line, the building is partially concealed and has privacy from the drive. The owners are a multi-generational family who hope to share their retreat and property with the greater public as an Airbnb-style rental.
The structure is approached from the northwest via a gravel drive that winds through the prairie hillside. Parking sits back from the tree line. From there a pathway leads between trees to where the land falls away, and a footbridge carries across to the entry of Metal Lark. A raw, uncoated, corrugated steel wall envelops the uphill side of the building. The façade’s thick, super-insulated wall structure buffers the retreat from prevailing northwest winter storms while also hiding views to the lake beyond – saving the big reveal for when one enters. Inside Metal Lark, the line of the bridge continues out the other side where the windows and door open to the landscape and an elevated deck cantilevers over the hillside.
Living space is accommodated on two levels, each with an efficient footprint of 20’ x 20’. The entry-level contains a mudroom, bathroom, and bedroom. A wood-lined stairway winds upward to the glass-walled living room, where dramatic views are revealed. A small, but well-appointed kitchen is contained within the wooden cabinet wall adjoining the stair. A writing desk is tucked into the cabinet wall at the far end, and its back panel conceals a pull-down murphy bed for an additional sleeping location. A small storage room and mechanical space on the ground level are accessed from outside underneath the cantilevered floor.
The owners asked for a modern building, durable materials, and a small footprint. They were interested in accentuating a verticality of form while providing expansive views of the landscape. The owners also wished to minimize the ecological footprint of the building, leading the design team to conduct comprehensive energy modeling and develop numerous sustainable strategies:
• passive solar orientation
• summer shading utilizing roof overhangs
• shading using deciduous tree cover
• super-thick walls allow for maximizing insulation on non-glassy exposures
• triple-pane windows
• operable windows for cross-ventilation
• stack-ventilation (bringing cooler air in low and venting out high)
• ceiling fans for cooling
• solar panels located in the prairie behind Metal Lark are sized to supply 100% net-metered electricity
Construction by One-Cut Construction
Engineering by Kirk Davis and MBJ Engineering
Metal fabrication by North Shore Steel
Photographs by Corey Gaffer
2021 Home of the Month Award
MetalLark Tower, The Cabin Chronicles, Season 2, Episode 7, 2022
Residential Design, Volume 1, 2022
“An Enchanting Cabin of Wood, Glass and Steel Entices Visitors to Rural Wisconsin”, Dwell, October 21, 2021
“Touring Nordlys’ MetalLark Tower Airbnb | The Best Airbnb in the US!”, YouTube, by Levi Kelly, August 27, 2021