2009 Architect of Distinction and Emerging Talent Awards
Each year, Midwest Home teams up with American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota to honor two residential architects: an Architect of Distinction, an AIA member and licensed architect who has been practicing for at least 15 years; and an Emerging Talent winner, an AIA member and licensed architect who has been practicing for 10 years or fewer. ¶ Timothy A. Alt, AIA, is this year’s Architect of Distinction. In recognition of his work as founder and principal of Altus Architecture + Design in Minneapolis, Midwest Home will contribute a scholarship in his name to the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture. Kerrik Wessel, founder and principal of Wessel Design in Roseville, is the winner of this year’s Emerging Talent award.
|Tom Meyer, FAIA |
Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle
|Todd Hansen, AIA, |
Albertsson Hansen Architecture
|William Conway |
College of Design/School
University of Minnesota
|Chris Lee |
Embracing Land & Light
2009 Architect of Distinction Tim Alt
Photo by todd buchanan
Tim Alt, AIA, has designed a refined Kenwood penthouse overlooking the Minneapolis skyline, a loft with a flowing layout in the Edgewater near Lake Calhoun, an ancient-feeling house on White Bear Lake, and a clean, European-style home in Minnetonka that was built for $135 a square foot. But they all have one thing in common—good design. “Good design doesn’t mean you have to have a million bucks,” Alt says.
Alt’s mastery of residential design earned him recognition as the 2009 Architect of Distinction, awarded annually by Midwest Home and American Institute of Architects Minnesota (AIA). “[Alt] has a complete approach,” says Minneapolis architect Tom Meyer, the 2007 Architect of Distinction and a juror for this year’s competition. ¶ Like many architects, the 46-year-old began his career doing commercial work, such as the green glass, 34-story AT&T Tower he designed while at local firm Walsh Bishop. But as soon as he had a chance to design a home, he was hooked. “Designing a person’s house is a unique way of enriching their life,” Alt says. He went on to found Altus Architecture + Design in 1995 with the goal of “doing great work in 15 years. I think we’re doing that,” he says. The Minneapolis firm of seven designs mostly houses.
Alt does not pursue a signature style. The gable-roofed White Bear Lake house, completed in 2005, feels like a French country villa that’s been there for years. It stretches along the lake with long cedar pergolas shading large windows set in dry-stacked bluestone walls. The 2008 Minnetonka house, planned around a thick grove of pines and an old and very rare tamarack tree, is built of black concrete block and ochre and gray cement-fiber panels. Inside, it opens to sunlight and the outdoors.
The contemporary Kenwood penthouse combines a masterful layout with sophisticated materials: The building core is sheathed in pristine limestone and the columns in plaster; the envelope is glass and steel. In the walnut-clad Edgewater loft, Alt used curving walls and objects like a perforated screen around a spiral staircase to shape the space rather than chopping it into rooms.
What his abodes do share is what he deems the timeless qualities of good design. “We embrace the site and the gifts of the land,” he says. “What is the path of the sun? Where does the light want to be in the morning and in the evening? How does that shape the rituals of the day?” He maintains a human scale and chooses materials that engage the senses.
Alt’s devotion to light leads him to design narrow houses. “I love thin houses and how light moves through these structures. It adds a restorative quality to the dwelling,” he says. When a structure’s envelope is thicker—as in the top-floor condo—he opens the space to light by using as much glass as he can on the walls and inventive custom components, such as the sliding mesh screen in the Kenwood condo. He considers dark spaces a sign of failure.
Mayo Woodlands, an unusual suburban subdivision outside Rochester that Alt designed with David Salmela and Minneapolis landscape architect Shane Coen, explores this idea of thin, simple shoebox shapes oriented to the landscape. For that project, Alt designed four shallow-gabled, narrow houses that have been built for $150 to $200 a square foot, including site costs and landscaping.
Alt’s current projects include a “significant house for a significant location” on the southwest part of Lake of the Isles. Also taking shape is a more modest glass and stucco house a block from Cedar Lake. “What would I do if I didn’t have to make money?” he muses. “I’d do this.”
Design in the Genes
2009 Emerging Talent Kerrik Wessel
Photo by Todd Buchanan
Kerrik Wessel, winner of the 2009 Emerging Talent award, has architecture in his blood. His great-grandfather, Bror Wessel, was a master builder in Malmö, Sweden, who immigrated to Minnesota in 1915 and built houses for professors at the University of Minnesota. His grandfather, Hans Wessel, was a founding architect of Wessel Brunet Kline and designed a house on Cedar Lake that was featured in a 1937 issue of Architectural Forum. His dad, Brian Wessel, works as an affordable housing developer, building in tough Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Fourth in the line of designing Wessels, and married to architectural designer Heather Sexton, Kerrik has a deep affinity for designing houses, just like his forebears. “Houses are personal and small enough to get your hands around,” he says. To him, a house isn’t a commodity to flip in five years, but “a place to believe in and love.”
He carries that intimate affection for each of the handful of homes he’s designed—the “retro-pioneer” St. Croix Falls house that takes its cues from agrarian forms such as barns and corncribs; the poetic River Falls house that was inspired by the wildflower meadow it overlooks; the low-pitched modern house in La Crosse that’s waiting to be built; and his own house in Roseville, a 1954 design he has patiently restored and redesigned with Sexton for the past three years.
“I do these small, well-crafted progressive homes with modest budgets,” says Wessel, 45, who received a 2002 AIA Minnesota Honor Award for the St. Croix Falls house. Since leaving the Stillwater office of SALA Architects four years ago, Wessel founded his own firm and developed a preference for Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS), which provide a well-insulated building envelope and reduce on-site labor. “That’s the most important part of doing green building,” he says.
His designs always begin with the land, which he walks to get a feel for the light, trees, and topography. Living spaces are oriented to the sun, and outdoor walkways are always included “so the indoors extends to the outside,” Wessel says. His approach seems to “gather the landscape into the house,” says juror Meyer.
His next goal: re-do some of the many ramblers in the Twin Cities suburbs. “It’s great housing stock,” he says.
Minneapolis freelancer Linda Mack writes about architecture and design for regional and national magazines.
For more information on featured products and suppliers, please see our Buyer's Guide.