Iron Curtain: Contemporary design pays a surprise visit to Joplin, Missouri, in a unique collaboration of architect and owner.
In a leafy, upscale neighborhood of Northridge Estates in Joplin, Missouri—which was spared the destructive wrath of the tornado that tore through much of the town last year—most of the houses are faux-Georgian McMansions. But one stands out. People driving by Bill Perry's aptly named Heavy Metal House frequently stop to admire the 5,000-square-foot, one-story structure that sprawls across its 8-acre wooded site. From the road, observers can readily see the exterior of large glazed openings and perforated rusting steel panels. What they can't see is the man behind the facade, a self-styled collector and fabricator of art and architectural forms, whose home exists both as a laboratory for and testament to his creative spirit.
- Metal panels: Cardinal Detecto
- Glass: Guardian Industries
- Sliding doors: Fleetwood Windows & Doors
Perry wanted to participate intimately in the design and construction of his house and sought a partner in the architect he would hire. He engaged Matthew Hufft of Hufft Projects, a small firm in Kansas City, Missouri. Hufft, now 35, had won an SOM traveling fellowship in 2000 while attending the University of Kansas; received an M.Arch. from Columbia University in 2003; did brief stints in Bernard Tschumi's and Stanley Tigerman's offices; then founded his own practice in 2005. Originally from Springfield, Missouri, Hufft always knew he wanted to be an architect. “I grew up on a farm with no nearby friends and no cable TV,” he recalls. “I spent my weekends messing around with my dad's tools building things. I am a practical architect, not a theoretical one.” From his rural roots, Hufft's hands-on, easygoing style emerged, one that fit seamlessly with Perry's desire to work as a team. “When we met it was like a party. 'We can do this, we can do that.' Pure joy,” remarks Perry. In the same breath, he readily admits to being a control freak: “Well, I'm the one who has to live in the house, after all.”
The architect and owner agreed on a house of steel, glass, and concrete, with wood accents. A Miesian pavilion, the low-rise, flat-roofed building is free of ornamentation on the exterior except for 200 custom-manufactured panels of cold-rolled steel: It rusts like Cor-Ten, but is less expensive and more flexible (see sidebar). Perry's family-owned industrial scale company, Cardinal Detecto, fabricated the panels, as well as many other elements in the house: the gunmetal-finished steel kitchen cabinets, steel-clad floors and walls in the bathrooms, a giant concrete countertop in the kitchen, an oversized walnut dining table, and more. Perry admits, “I come from a family that says, 'We can make that,' and does.”
The house is arranged along two long hallways. Standing just inside the wide-pivoting walnut front door, one can see the full length of each extending in opposite directions, lined with art, fully glazed at the ends, and revealing views outside. Along one hallway an open plan provides for public areas, with three guest bedrooms and a garage tucked behind them. A private wing with a photography studio, library, and master bedroom suite occupies the other. There are clusters of red bud trees and ponds filled with koi and lilies in the front and backyards surrounded by dense woods. Lighting positioned under the eaves of the steel cladding outside illuminates the facade at night—the exterior appears to glow—while brightening the inside perimeter of the building.
Although Hufft's career is just unfolding, this project, supported by his seven-year mostly residential body of work, demonstrates a keen proclivity for innovation and experimentation. He readily admits his design ability is honed project by project. Heavy Metal House stands out as an accomplished stepping-stone in this evolution.
Holes in the Heavy Metal
A fan of constraint-based architecture, Hufft established a set of criteria upon which to calibrate the holes in the 200 cold-rolled steel panels that clad the exterior of the Heavy Metal House. Each panel takes into account solar orientation, privacy, and what lies behind the panels (windows or walls). The highest level of porosity occurred on panels covering public rooms, while bathrooms have the lowest. If a window rests behind a panel, the panel is perforated; if a solid wall lies behind, it is not. The north-facing elevation required opaque skins; panels on the south flip up as brises-soleil. Following the rules, the architect created digital files of the panels in Photoshop. Software pixelated the images, creating a map with white representing low porosity and black representing maximum porosity, with variant grades in between. “We e-mailed the file to [scale company] Cardinal Detecto, which punched the steel and bent it into shape,” explains Hufft.
Completion Date: July 2009
Size: 5,000 square feet
Total construction cost: Private
321 W. 40th Street
Kansas City, MO 64111