Courtesy LOCUS Architecture

In almost every design-driven home, there’s often one element or detail that is so dramatic it helps define the project. It might be custom metal work or historically accurate shutters. For Minneapolis-based LOCUS Architecture, it just might be the siding—or more specifically, the siding and sheathing.

Unlike most builders and architects who use opaque materials such as vinyl and fiber cement for their exteriors, LOCUS often uses a polycarbonate product and salvaged billboards with graphics, which allow passersby to see through the siding and get a peek at the images underneath.

“Possibly the most interesting aspect of this siding application is that its opacity changes with the seasons and lighting conditions, thus revealing what’s underneath in varied ways,” says Paul V. Neseth, a principal at the firm.

The see-through siding and billboards beneath create an amazing façade, but there’s another benefit to using the two materials. Neseth says the idea was born out of a need for a better way to sheath and clad a residential structure. “We were researching materials and learned that the billboards provided a higher-quality material at a lower cost,” he says. “For each billboard you see along the road, there’s at least one or two in a warehouse that never sees the light of day.”

Billboards—because they have to withstand the elements for long periods of time—are of higher quality than typical OSB, Neseth explains. “Since no other products existed for this type of application (drainage plane material behind translucent siding), we needed to be creative about what materials we use. Billboards are durable, UV-resistant, water-repellent, and have interesting graphics.”

Plus, they can be acquired for a lower cost. Early on, the firm would get a stack of billboards for a measly sum—like a case of beer. “Then there was a small payment,” the architect says. “Most recently, we’ve struck up a relationship with a smaller company that values the reuse of their products by us as well as reducing their need to discard them in a traditional way.”