The Parallelogram House Helps Reshape a Sleepy Canadian City
Founded by Sasa Radulovic, originally from Sarajevo, and Johanna Hurme, from Helsinki, the 5468796 Architecture collective explores a different approach to siting, one that abandons traditional footprints in favor of houses that respond to their lots. In setting up shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the pair came to a place quite antithetical to that concept.
Winnipeg is a Canadian prairie city, sprawling in size if only middling in population, where the idea of rigorous space planning has held little value.
Although the city’s arts community is vibrant—and there’s a legacy of both early-20th-century architecture and midcentury modernism—Winnipeg is still largely a rugged, traditional kind of town.
Some of 5468796’s community projects naturally drew flak. One especially controversial structure was the Cube, an open-air performance venue in an aluminum chainmail skin. Critics decried the hypermodern piece in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District. But the strong reaction got people thinking, and talking, about architecture. It also gave 5468796—the name is a reference to the firm’s company registration number—a reputation as a group with a deep understanding of geometry, which is reflected in their residential work as well.
One such project, Parallelogram House, is located in a suburban neighborhood of mostly shingle and stucco houses on spacious lots. The owners, Rachel and Nolan Ploegman, have two boys, ages seven and five, and a five-month-old daughter. Nolan, the president of a construction company, had collaborated with 5468796 on other projects. When the couple decided they wanted something different for their own house, Rachel says, "We knew Johanna and Sasa were the right people."
With its wood-and-metal cladding and bent-plate Cor-Ten columns, the 2,700-square-foot home stands out from its neighbors. It is spread over a single story, with an unusual parallelogram shape that fills the width of the narrow site. Hurme notes its form is not just an architectural whim. "Every geometrical shape should come from the requirement of the program or the site," she says.
In the case of Parallelogram House, the focus was getting the most out of a deep backyard. "The idea was to spend more money on the back of the house than on the front," Nolan says. Explains Hurme: "There was a need to hide the garage in the front. We also needed to stretch out the amount of windows facing the back. So the parallelogram felt very natural by the time we got to it."
"Every geometrical shape should come from the requirement of the program or the site." Johanna Hurme, architect
In front, the garage is flush with the facade of the house and tall prairie grass surrounds the driveway. Bob Somers of landscape architecture firm Scatliff + Miller + Murray says the goal was to create a native pastoral feel, almost "an agrarian landscape around the house that kind of made it belong."
Beyond the front door, the living/dining area is set up against a huge span of windows. Wrapped in wood cladding, an elemental box contains a closet, bathroom, and pantry and lends shape to the kitchen. The rectangular box sits in the middle of the space, giving a sense of solidity among the sharp angles. Originally, the architects wanted the exterior’s Cor-Ten in the interior, too, but the Ploegmans found the material too cold, and they ended up using maple pillars instead.
Because of Winnipeg’s long winters, houses can feel quite heavy, as windows are always triple-paned and plenty of insulation is a must. "You tend to see these hermetically sealed boxes that are really sort of impenetrable—we tried to fray that edge," Hurme says. At the Ploegmans’, a sweeping overhang above the main living space’s west-facing window—about 12 feet of cantilever—assists with climate control. The feature prevents solar gain from the strong prairie sunlight on hot days. "We’d probably be cranking up the air conditioning two or three times as much if the roof didn’t overhang the back," Nolan says.
"The idea is that you don’t have to build a house that’s the same as everyone else’s." Nolan Ploegman, resident
Outside, the cedar cladding complements a nearby stand of trees as well as the Cor-Ten steel. Both are materials that look better with age. In designing the outdoor spaces, Somers and his team looked to the unusual form of the house for inspiration. "We continued that [parallelogram] geometry over the landscape to ensure that we created middle ground, foreground, and background perspectives so that the extended landscape is not looking at the neighbors’ houses," Somers explains.
By day, the home’s expansive windows offer the parents a view as the kids play soccer or baseball outside. At night, the family lights a fire in the black-granite pit out back or eats dinner on the screened porch that has become their favorite space in the whole house.
The couple says the neighborhood’s reaction, at first curious, is now complimentary. "All the houses around us are fairly mid-’90s," Nolan says. "We came and kind of shocked everyone. Now that it’s finished, the house has caught people’s attention more toward this style of home and the idea that you don’t have to build a house that’s the same as everyone else’s."
And this is how a dialogue, started with a cube, continues with a parallelogram.
"Being a builder, Nolan really takes pride in things being built well. There are no fast, cheap details." Johanna Hurme