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     A home for partner Paul Neseth, and his wife needed to express their intense relationship with nature and music. She wanted a sun room connected to the outdoors, an important feature in Minnesota where you may spend half the year indoors. He wanted an acoustically lively room to host intimate concerts. These two seemingly unrelated interests – a space reaching out to embrace nature and one enclosed space for music – drove the house’s conceptual framework.  The scheme nestles a two-story, “outdoor” wood-framed courtyard-concert hall within smaller concrete block “buildings” of bedrooms, baths and a library. Barbara has likened her “sun room” to the residual spaces between buildings in Italian hill towns. Balconies and recessed niches provide spaces for musicians to perform, with the variegated room perimeter and the mixture of building material densities, especially the concrete, giving the room dynamic acoustics, and cushioning against street noise.  Oriented southward, in winter the “courtyard” basks in sunlight; in summer, shade trees arrest the sun. Opening up the house in this way offers privacy from a relatively busy parkway to the west. And as the “courtyard” faces an empty lot owned by the couple, solar access is plentiful. In the future, they plan to design and build a second house towards the rear of this lot, guaranteeing south exposure for both dwelling as well as a common garden. This residence illustrates Locus’ commitment to reuse, resource and energy efficiency, and the support of local materials and labor. The Douglas fir in the house, including the exposed floor joists and large timbers, were salvaged from the demolition of a local armory. Birch floors were salvaged by the owners from two homes in their neighborhood slated for demolition. Hardwoods from the stairs and railings were purchased from a sustainably managed, small family mill in Wisconsin.  Locus’ commitment to construction innovation is reflected in the home’s concrete, dry-stack construction. Used primarily in the 1950s and 60s, dry-stack was promoted at the time as a do-it-yourself method. The system works as follows - concrete masonry units units are stacked in a running bond pattern, shimmed to plumb, with cores pored every four feet. This low-tech technique enabled a job crew of three carpenters - unskilled as masons - to build the concrete parts of the house.  The concrete provides superior acoustics – both enlivening the space and arresting outdoor noises – and gives the house a solidity not possible in light frame construction. The concrete bonding coat over the masonry, concrete floors in the “courtyard” room and entry, concrete counters in the kitchen and baths, and concrete window sills showcase the material as crafted and durable. Unlike drywall and other more modern building materials, these concrete items will age gracefully.
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