When an investment banker with an interest in art and architecture hired Lawrence Scarpa of Hawthorne, Calif.–based Brooks + Scarpa to design his new Evanston, Ill., house, it was far from clear how the architect would respond to the locale. The client was drawn to a steel house Scarpa had designed in Venice, Calif., and expected something similar. But Scarpa, who partnered with Chicago-based Studio Dwell Architects on the project, had other ideas: “We’re in Chicago; we need to do brick,” he said. That decision led to a taut 21-foot-tall brick box that lines a 2,800-square-foot single-family residence.
The house’s defining feature is its moiré-patterned façade. “It’s a simple screen that you can almost pass by without noticing,” Scarpa says. “In some ways, it’s featureless unless you really look at it.”
The screen is made from a series of torqued columns, each formed by stacked Chicago common brick. “It’s the throwaway brick,” Scarpa says of the locally produced salmon and buff masonry units that owe their unique colors to the region’s clay. “People always put it on a building’s side, where you never see it.” But Scarpa is known for taking materials often seen as junk and transforming them: “Just because it’s not perfect, doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful,” he says.
Unlike the house’s more prosaic neighbors—which have front doors that directly face a straight path from the sidewalk—Scarpa choreographed an elaborate entry sequence: A diagonal walk across the front yard ensures that visitors experience the changing natural light across the rippled façade as they approach the front door.
The structure’s open floor plan is quite simple, with a double-height great room that accommodates living and dining areas immediately adjacent to the courtyard. The kitchen shares the same space, with its appliances tucked into white millwork along the west wall of the house. An office occupies a small pavilion on the western edge of the courtyard, and it is linked to the living spaces via a glassy corridor. Upstairs, a large master suite anchors the rear of the house, and a small guest suite is located above the office.
The interior is designed to be neutral, as expressed by its minimal materials palette: Concrete floors on the ground level, wood floors on the second, gypsum board walls, and built-in MDF and oak cabinets. The house employs conventional wood framing and mechanical systems; radiant heating and cooling make the space comfortable during both the cold Midwestern winters and warm summers.