The late architect Walter A. Netsch specialized in library and education buildings as a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill from 1947 to ’79. He was a devout brutalist who favored complex formal geometries. Perhaps the purest expression of Netsch’s philosophy is his own home in Chicago, which he completed in 1972. Its lofty, skylit interior was partitioned solely by level changes—only the bathrooms were enclosed—with railing-free angular platforms connected by open-riser stairs.
In 2013, new owners who had purchased the property from Netsch’s widow tapped SOM to render the 3,500 square feet more functional as a living environment while preserving its wide-open sight lines and unique spatial experience. “Careful restoration and renewal of select elements enhanced the expansive sense of movement, materiality, and light,” design partner Brian Lee says. That entailed installing new appliances, cabinetry, and a 40-foot-long walnut counter in the kitchen; updating tiles, surfaces, and lighting in the bathrooms; adding concealed sliding doors to privatize the master bedroom; and inserting white-painted blocks between risers and minimalist railings to mitigate vertigo. Also new: a site-specific digital artwork by Luftwerk, projected above the living platform’s custom sofa. Netsch would surely have approved.
Project Team: Dickson Whitney; Michelle Mirrielees.