Wings unfurled in the woods
Jennifer Hughes & Adam Rouse Photography
Douglas Bothner, Matthew Rouse - Ziger/Snead Architects
Custom Concepts by Greenwalt
In the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, a house surrounded by nature acts a contemporary refuge marked by powerful contrasts and sophisticated primitivism. Secluded yet open, Baltimore Slate House is the epitome of domestic serenity but has a dramatic story to tell, rebuilt like a phoenix from the ashes of a ranch-style 1960s house that was destroyed by a fire. The project carried out by local practice Ziger/Snead Architects aimed to reconnect the site with its environment, a natural area protected by the Maryland Environmental Trust.
Standing on a three-hectare site, the house and gardens with swimming pool are a metaphor for healing, peace and rest. The layout consists of a central building with two almost symmetrical wings that extend diagonally into the landscape, a design that can interpreted as a scar or as the roots of a tree stretching out in the ground. The project suggests a physical and emotional (re)connection with the surrounding nature.
In elevation, the building has the typical shape of a tympanum. Adopting a process described as «geometric extrusion», the architects created elongated volumes with a double-pitched roof that project into the surrounding environment, recreating the symbolic, archetypal shape of a house as seen in a child’s drawing.
The high degree of formal minimalism is coupled with an effective choice of natural materials that connect the building with the site. Dark slate shingles cover the roof and some of the perimeter walls like a shell, while the open façades stand out for the presence of large windows alternating with warm mahogany panels. The ends of the gables are clad with striking carbonised wood cladding alternating with fully-glazed sections, like large eyes staring out onto nature. While dark and mimetic on the outside, the house is fluid and luminous inside. Space is used in such a way as to emphasise the vertical scale, the double-pitched ceilings bringing a sense of height and a cathedral-like theatricality. Rigorously white walls blend with the stone cladding of the fireplaces and the wall supporting the wooden staircase, while the mahogany profiles of the windows frame the view of the forest, creating a connection between indoors and outdoors that is further enhanced by the seamless continuity of the floor covering. The chosen material is a porcelain tile (Imola Ceramica, Concrete Project, Dark Grey 120×120 cm) in a dark colour that coordinates well with the slate cladding and the natural look of the materials. The ceramic tiling serves as a unifying stylistic and spatial element that extends through all the interiors, creating a sensation of fluid transition between the rooms and enhancing the sobriety of the prevalently white furnishings, a colour often chosen as a design icon. Extending over 650 square metres on two levels, the house has three guest rooms on the ground floor along with a media room, a laundry room and technical rooms. The upper floor, where the main entrance is located, has a kitchen, a family room, a studio and the master suite with living/dining area. With its spectacular location in the main building with windows on both sides, this area is the central hub of the house, a kind of gallery whose walls are formed by the surrounding trees. Baltimore Slate House won first prize in the Residential category of the 25th Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition open to architectural projects carried out in North America.