written by:
March 5, 2013
Originally published in Indoor Outdoor
In Arlington, Virginia, architecture firm Höweler + Yoon contends with spatial and budgetary constraints to carve a microcourtyard, complete with Japanese maples and a cascading concrete fountain, in just 200 square feet.

Höweler + Yoon squeezed high-design landscape elements, like a fountain and built-in seating, into a small 15-by-13-foot space.

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Meejin and her parents selected plants—water hyacinth to float in the water. Metal channels guide water from tier to tier.

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Red Head fountain grass and Aoba Jo and Beni Ubi Gohon dwarf Japanese maples—from the Merrifield Garden Center surround the fountain. “The house I grew up in had a similar maple tree,” says Meejin. “It grows slowly over time, and it was one of the special trees that we had on our property.” Eventually, the fountain will hold koi. In the event that either of Meejin’s parents, Hannah or Jason, needs a wheelchair later in life, the firm created a side walkway with a gentle slope. The path is lined with Silver Lake quartzite flagstone pavers Hannah selected from the Charles Luck Stone Center.

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A detail of the interlocking concrete tubs.

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Perforated metal fence in Arlington, Virginia

An aluminum water-jet cut fence divides separates the house from its neighbors."My favorite part of the courtyard," says Höweler. He and Meejin took one sheet of metal and cut it down the middle in a zig-zag pattern. "It produces a 'screen' look and creates beautiful shadows. I like that it is materially efficient—there is zero waste of material since both sides of the sheet are used."

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The house, shown here from the street, was designed for two full-time residents and to accommodate visiting children and grandchildren. Its name—the 10 Degree House—comes from the roof's angle.

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Japanese joinery is an interest of Höweler + Yoon. "One of my exercises is to have students make a Japanese joint. The idea is that a void can kind of become a lock or an intersection to fit two pieces together," says Meejin. "There's something very strong about certain wedge Japanese joints. The courtyard wasn't intended to look like one—it just happened."

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Yoon designed the house as a place where her parents could retire so she kept the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom on one level. She added a walk-out basement that her parents can rent out or use for a live-in caretaker. The lot is much narrower than most parcels so the house is built almost flush with the property line. The roof rises at an angle of 10 degrees, which is house the project got its name.

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To adhere to a limited budget, Höweler + Yoon used basic materials throughout—slate, concrete, wood, cement board—but splurged on a marble countertop in the kitchen. "Because the house and millwork was so neutral to room could take a bit more richness," says Yoon. From within the combined living/kitchen/dining area, one only sees the microcourtyard outside.

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Here's the living room. "It's a really wonderful thing to be able to design a house for your parents," says Yoon. "It was a very personal an intimate process."

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Tall celings help the house feel more spacious. The house is designed for two full-time residents and to accommodate their visiting children and grandchildren. A bedroom is located just past the second floor overlook.

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howeler yoon garden

Höweler + Yoon squeezed high-design landscape elements, like a fountain and built-in seating, into a small 15-by-13-foot space.

Boston architects Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon are internationally renowned for their pioneering architectural and urban design projects, but in their recent concept for Meejin’s parents, Hannah and Jason Yoon, the vanguard couple took a more restrained tack. “It’s a simple house, with a few flourishes,” says Höweler, “less exotic, more practical, a little funky.” One embellishment is a small courtyard, born of restrictions imposed by budget, a narrow site, and strict zoning laws.

To maximize square footage and adhere to setback regulations, Höweler and Yoon planted the house dead center in the parcel, leaving little room for outdoor space. Riffing on a courtyard—“one of our ongoing interests, or obsessions,” says Höweler—the duo designed an inlet that satisfies Hannah and Jason’s desire for a meditative bit of greenery with a water feature.

howeler yoon garden concrete fountain

Meejin and her parents selected plants—water hyacinth to float in the water. Metal channels guide water from tier to tier.

“In every project, we try to do one thing that’s handmade, a custom design where the only way we could afford to do it is if we did it ourselves,” says Meejin. They rolled up their sleeves and, with the help of Meejin’s brother and David Costanza, a former student and employee, spent two weeks building the formwork to mold the concrete for the fountain. They found a local supplier who custom-colored the cast concrete a shade darker than the house’s CertainTeed–clad facade. Stainless steel channels guide water through the three-tiered design; benches topped with ipe provide a place to sit. Dwarf Japanese maples, wild grasses, and white beach pebbles from Sumatra break up the otherwise gray palette. “It’s small but we wanted it to feel like a very designed outdoor landscape,” says Meejin of the thoughtfully selected and affordable details that make the whole garden feel far greater than the sum of its parts.

howeler yoon garden courtyard

Red Head fountain grass and Aoba Jo and Beni Ubi Gohon dwarf Japanese maples—from the Merrifield Garden Center surround the fountain. “The house I grew up in had a similar maple tree,” says Meejin. “It grows slowly over time, and it was one of the special trees that we had on our property.” Eventually, the fountain will hold koi. In the event that either of Meejin’s parents, Hannah or Jason, needs a wheelchair later in life, the firm created a side walkway with a gentle slope. The path is lined with Silver Lake quartzite flagstone pavers Hannah selected from the Charles Luck Stone Center.

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