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Architectural Record, April, 1994

Steel Magnolia Aging Well

By Sara Hart

Saratoga Springs, a college town at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains, is also home to the country’s oldest race course, a famous writer’s colony, and acres of idyllic rural farms and hot springs. Only 180 miles from Manhattan, it’s been a favorite summer retreat for performing arts institutions, such as the New York City Ballet. It’s also famous for the Victorian architecture that remains the predominant residential style. Otherwise, except for the inevitable encroachment of suburban ranch houses, Saratoga County is picturesque and historically charming.

Then in the early 1990s, Lawrence Marcelle, an aspiring writer, commissioned architects Simon Ungers and Tom Kinslow to build a retreat for him and his 10,000-book collection on a 40-acre wooded site a few miles from genteel Saratoga Springs and neighboring villages. Their collaboration resulted in a structure so alien to its context that one would assume it would never settle into its site or be at home in its surrounding environs.

The house is a simple two-bar parti in which the dual elements are stacked perpendicularly. Although the structure was conventionally built, the building is clad in heavy steel with a nickel and chromium finish. The top bar—44 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 16 feet tall—houses the library, cantilevered over the base bar, which contains the rest of the home. The library’s prominently lofty, hovering position was apparently chosen to symbolize the owner’s literary aspirations.

Well, eleven years later, Marcelle and his wife, Diane, who also maintain a residence in Manhattan, now comfortably settled into their suit of mail, have organized the book collection in steel shelves accessed by suspended catwalks, and transformed this peculiar object in the landscape into a home. Meanwhile, the house itself has made peace with nature. Although never really visible from the road, T-House is now camouflaged by a decade of fast-growing flora: Brush, ferns, and lush native grasses have grown thickly around the base. The envelope’s vibrant rust-colored veneer has acquired a dark, almost black, patina, which seems to have adopted the bark of the trees that encircle it.

Ungers and Kinslow went their separate ways immediately after finishing the project and have never worked together again. This was their only collaboration, so there’s no oeuvre of T-House-inspired steel structures, nor is there any evidence that they ignited a trend that might have chased away the Victorian old guard. Ungers works as an artist in Cologne, Germany, and occasionally shows his art in the States. T-House sits aging gracefully where the architects left it, a permanent monument to a fleeting relationship.

Click images to see larger.
The once bright, rust-colored envelope has developed a nearly black patina.
The base of the house, containing the living quarters (below), is nestled into the hillside. The library above it remains visible over the treetops (above).
Above photos © Eduard Hueber
The original layout in RECORD published in 1994.

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