Alan Schwartz Summer House

People: Gunnar Birkerts

Date: 1961

City: Northville

Alan Schwartz Summer House, Northville.  Photograph courtesy Joseph Messana Architectural Image Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

The Alan Schwartz Summer House was one of the first projects of Birmingham, Michigan-based architectural firm of Birkerts & Straub, organized in 1959 by Gunnar Birkerts and his partner Frank A. Straub.

Designed in 1960, the house was situated in a 400-acre apple orchard in then Northville Township, Michigan. The orchard was laid out in a regimented grid fashion, and the Schwartzes allowed for the removal of four trees where the house was to be constructed. Designed on two axes the home had four identical facades. The house was constructed of natural elements, and sided in wood “not unlike the farm siding that covered other nearby buildings.” Long cantilevered overhangs provided the interior spaces with protection from the sun. The home, placed on a platform raised slightly above the ground, was given a distinctively sculptural form to distinguish itself from the surrounding foliage. 

Birkerts aim to simplify the details of the structure was achieved in several ways. The interior was all white with vivid colors selected for the furnishings, structural details within the home were hidden from sight, and daylight was admitted through a clerestory that reflected on the walls of the interior.

At the time of construction the home cost twenty-six thousand dollars to build.  The Alan Schwarz Summer House was praised by critics and won Birkerts and partner Straub an AIA Honor Award in 1961. The Schwartz Summer House was demolished in 1986.