The truth about so-called “Boxy Houses”

It is interesting how some people talk about modern homes and use descriptors like “boxy”, “plain”, or “flat” – but is it reasonable to characterize all modern design with such over-simplistic descriptors? In many cases, especially in the inner-city where space is at a premium and lot values are high, home owners want to maximize their living space. Often, the most efficient design comes in the form of linear post and beam construction – one of the hallmarks of mid-Century Modern design made popular by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe.  

index U of Chicago WalterGropius-1919 gropius-house-1938

-Frank Lloyd Wright                                                 -Walter Gropius

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-Le Corbusier                                                            –Mies van der Rohe

There is a common misconception that architectually designed modern homes have to be boxy. We’ve got three projects on the go for clients wanting a piece of contemporary architecture; each with their own distinct “flat” roof style contributing to unique design characteristics and none of them, dare we say, look like a box!  The first house follows in the tradition of west coast architecture providing long roof canopies and projecting volumes similar to the long lines of low-pitch roofs. The other two have flat roofs, both are completely different architecturally.

 …we revisited the rooflines found in the Prairie Style designs of Frank Lloyd Wright: rethinking the folding of the roof and reducing the pitch…


The first clients came from a traditional home in an older neighborhood and wanted something contemporary for their new home – but definitely not “boxy or plain.” So, for them, we revisited the rooflines found in the Prairie Style designs of Frank Lloyd Wright: hyper extending the eaves, rethinking the folding of the roof and reducing the pitch to a minimum. The extended eaves give the illusion of a flat roof when looked at from street level; all you see are the eaves and not the pitches. An interesting combination of form and function as the extended roof serves both an aesthetic purpose along with a productive role by providing valuable protection from the elements and, of course, an interior vaulted ceiling that moves through the plan of the home.


The second house takes this idea and pushes it to the limit- it eliminates the eaves all together. The house becomes a total figure-ground, solid and void exercise, minimalist, and very pure, with no frills. It’s basically datums, volumes, quadrants and hemispheres that sit right on top of one another. What you see is what you get, and an open plan that emphasizes the inside outside connections, making certain exterior walls disappear. The only details to play with are the contrasting light and darks of the forms.


The third house sits on the crest of a dramatic hillside. Not desiring a flat vertical home but rather a house that mimics the horizontality like the brow of a hill on the prairie sky, the design allows for the floor planes to project beyond the exterior walls like canopies of a tree; long horizontal floating projections directed in flight towards the views. Although flat, the floating roof planes create a sense of transparency within the interior space each lifted almost in flight from one another. Even the upper most roof plan with a private ensuite garden serves as a point of contemplation to the expanding setting.

“New Century Modern” designs pay homage to the past, create an innovative present, and promise a sustainable future.

The three designs allowed for maximized height and all achieved the same end with different language because of each client’s different sensibilities. Our “New Century Modern” designs pay homage to the past, create an innovative present, and promise a sustainable future – and none, dare we say again, is a box.


(Cover image credit to James Biber – “The Farnsworth House 2012 Felt Marker on Paper.  DMA home images credit to Ron Choe/DMA.  Other images obtained from and credited to Wikipedia).

Categories: Architecture

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