Anderson Anderson Architecture

Chameleon House

LOCATION: Lake Michigan, Leelanau County, MI

PROJECT SIZE: 6,276 sf

BUILDING TYPE: Single family resident, Prefabricated steel moment frame construction


2006 AIA San Francisco Honor Award – Chameleon House, Michigan

2006 ACSA Faculty Design Honor Award – Chameleon House, Michigan

2005 AIA California East Bay Award Citation – Chameleon House, Michigan


This house is a tower rising above the rolling topography of its cherry orchard site, peering outwards toward spectacular westward views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding agricultural landscape. The site is minimally disturbed, other than the mounding of two earthen enclosures adjacent to the tower, created from the excavated earth of the foundation and offering a ground to contrast the tower experience above the treescape. Due to the slope of the site, the family enters at the third level, descending down to the kids’ bedrooms and bath or moving up to the main living spaces which look out over the orchards to Lake Michigan.

A house would appear as an unsympathetic intrusion in this pure landscape, and with its singular vertical presence rising above the orchard, the tower is intended to reflect the austere, scaleless non-particularity of the occasional farm buildings dotted elsewhere on the hills. To help mask the scale, the building is wrapped in a skirting wall of recycled translucent polyethelene slats, standing two feet out from the galvanized sheet metal cladding of the wall surface on aluminum frames that serve also as window washing platforms and emergency exit ladders. The translucent polyethylene material set out over the dully reflective wall cladding is chosen for its ability to gather the light and color of its landscape, dissolving the finely shadowed and haloed structure into the seasonal color cycle of snow, ice and black twig tracery; pale pink blossom clouds; pollen green leaf and grass; golden straw and vivid foliage. The double skin creates a micro-climate and thermal differential around the structure creating a rippling mirage updraft that in the summer sends steaming condensation or in the winter drips melting icicles.

In order to keep costs and on site labor to a minimum, SIPs panels compose the exterior walls.  A steel moment frame allows for the height of the structure and for loft like spaces within the main living area.  With the use of common materials and industrial detailing, a commercial contractor built the home in eight weeks.

%d bloggers like this: