CONCEPT: This courtyard residence, constructed on a double lot in a dense urban neighborhood, exemplifies the idea that good design cannot be thought of as a luxury, that sustainability and affordability must become integral components of everyday architecture.  Designed and constructed by Ramsey Jones Architects for their growing family, this compact house has comfortably attained both.

We tasked ourselves with designing and constructing a sustainable and affordable home in the City of Milwaukee with a flexible floor plan and the potential for vertical expansion to accommodate our evolving needs.  Of primary concern was the integration of the courtyard as an essential and primary living space.   The initial challenge was ambitious at 2,000 square feet and $200,000, but attainable with a little sweat equity.

Situated on a previously empty double lot, the building is placed to minimize residual space and maximize the contained courtyard, a microclimate that stretches the seasons and dramatically increases the perceived size of the house. Narrow open volumes provide full daylighting and barrier free natural ventilation while serving to capture and contain the private courtyard.

Materials, systems and details were closely considered for durability, efficiency and location of origin.  This formed a body of decisions that favored fewer high quality commercial grade components, creating a spare, durable and flexible shell.  Acting as both architects and general contractors, we worked closely with each major trade in turn to construct a simple and stable building enclosure.

The project successfully combines sustainable design and affordable costs while integrating high quality components and materials.  The sustainable features of the project range from highest order of magnitude (locating the building on an empty lot in the City to best use existing infrastructure) to the smallest detail (dark thermal mass floors, rain barrels, re-purposed materials).  The building also incorporates the potential for vertical expansion and the flexibility, in both planning and zoning, to serve multiple uses including commercial applications, thereby increasing its lifespan.

Affordable quality drove us to think of the building as our laboratory. This time honored architectural tradition of self-performing experimental work to offset costs was undertaken with the basic premise that we were unafraid to fail, allowing us the opportunity to test our design ideas and craft skills.

The resulting home, a simple expression of clear ideas, has exceeded our expectations, shaping the very way we live, work and play.