Prarie Schooner by Fisher ARCHitecture

Located along U.S. Route 2, which spans twenty five hundred miles across the northern United States, the project is part of our continuing effort in the office to design contemporary buildings that relate directly to their location.  By recontextualizing Midwestern building motifs from the nineteen-fifties and sixties, we have created a style of architecture that is dear to the owners.  The office interns here have taken to calling this unsentimental style, which is old fashioned and tough, yet ambiguously futuristic, “prairiepunk”, after the steampunk novels and movies they admire.  Even so, the project’s formal concerns are undeniably Modern at their heart, reflecting the owners’ forward-thinking inclinations.

The interior spaces of this “prairie schooner” are nestled comfortably in the ground: Earth sheltered construction protects the owners from the high winds and variable temperatures that characterize this part of the country.  Each room has a direct, uniquely defined relationship with one of three partially enclosed exterior courtyards that are carved, poché-style, from the solid mass of the earth. And the surrounding landscape is dead-flat, so viewing a man-made hill from the road allows drivers to experience the prairie in a new way.  The curved wing-shaped roof, which points due North, floats above the interior and brings to mind images of flight. It provides a viewing platform from which one may appreciate the fourth exterior space of the house, the prairie itself.  The vertical counterpart to this long horizontal shape is a billboard which faces East back toward town.  It features a map of the site with a straightforward 3D representation of the house itself in the center. There will certainly be no mistaking where you are as you drive by.

Project Specifications:  The home features wood post and beam construction with rammed earth concrete retaining walls. In winter, the thermal mass of the earth holds heat inside, acting as a passive heat bank.  In summer, the earth keeps the internal room temperature far cooler than the outside temperature, removing the need for air-conditioning.  Buried below the piled-up earthen berms are the horizontal loops of an electric geothermal heating system, pushing the idea of using the earth for environmental advantage to an extreme.  And we’re using the air too: The windmill visible in a couple of the renderings is located just across the street and generates energy sufficient to power the home. Thanks to North Dakota’s net-metering policy, no storage batteries will be required.

“The Lakota was a true naturist – a lover of nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth…The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.”

Chief Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, Houghton Mifflin, Boston & New York, 1933