Donald H. & Harriet J. Freeman House

People: Gunnar Birkerts

Date: 1965

City: Grand Rapids

Donald H. and Harriet J. Freeman House, Grand Rapids. Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Jessica Puff.

The Donald H. and Harrient J. Freeman House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was designed in 1964 and completed in 1966, an early project of Gunnar Birkerts and Associates. The design of the house demonstrates Mr. Birkerts’ ability to explore unconventional solutions to the programmatic requirements of his creative, risk-taking clients. In his fascination with the concept of superimposing an orthogonal over a radial planning grid, the architect designed a plan in which the atrium becomes the point in the building from which all other interior spaces radiate at different angles. While standing in this hub of the house, one can view other rooms through permanent wall openings or through windows which can be shielded with hinged panels. A conventionally framed, pryamidal roof over the atrium allows light to filter in past a second, inverted pyramid in the ceiling, which reflects natural and artificial light onto the wall spaces below. Mr. Birkerts’ renowned, innovative use of light is also seen in the placement of angled, exterior, wing walls, which obstruct views of the interior from the outside, while at the same time serving as reflecting panels for the spaces within. He further allows indirect daylight into the house through light chambers, formed by the glazing between overlapping, horizontal, roof beams.