Reader's Choice: Lasting Impressions By Carolyn Weber and Christina B. Farnsworth

Name: Johanson House

Location: St. Paul, Minn.

Year Built: 1986

Architect: Sarah Susanka and Dale Mulfinger

Why it's relevant: This is an early example of a "not so big" home, which lives large in detail rather than cubic footage.

"It stopped me in my tracks emotionally," says builder Perry Bigelow of a house designed by Sarah Susanka (now well-known for her books on "not so big houses") featured in Fine Home Building magazine more than a decade ago.

Studying that single custom home literally changed Bigelow's life by opening him to the architectural philosophies of Christopher Alexander's book, Pattern Language, referenced in Susanka's narrative of the house. Earlier he had been inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian houses because of their use of the sun (passive solar design), efficient use of materials, and quest for housing affordability.

Exposure to Susanka's interest in Pattern Language led Bigelow on a reading and studying odyssey and taught him that design elevates behavior. His short course in building humanism, also expanded to include the 1985 best-selling book Habits of the Heart.

[Photo: Sala Architects]

Residents in his community, Home Town Aurora, Aurora, Ill., recently demonstrated a powerful lesson in how intimate design with a community feel affects behavior. One resident initiated the idea that the community should honor national efforts against terrorism with a candle lighting ceremony. At the agreed upon hour and with less than a single day's notice, 200 neighbors showed up to light candles. The event caught the attention of a local newspaper reporter who had unsuccessfully tried the same thing in his own neighborhood. "What we are doing works," Bigelow says.

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