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Inspiration, Design, Creation

What could the MIT Department of Economics possibly have to do with a house renovation in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Evanston?


Design sketch inspired by MIT Dept of Economics

I was visiting east coast universities with my son last fall when we came across the Morris and Sophie Chang Building on the Charles River in Boston, on MIT’s campus. We weren’t on the official tour but we managed to find our way in to the building and come across this.

Someone, and I wish I knew who so I could credit him or her, was inspired. They took a simple straight piece of wood and explored what could be done with it. The corridor of each floor progresses as you move up the building. On the second floor the boards are straight and they interact with the acrylic floor numbers.

Wood slats provide a playful presentation of way-finding

Wood slats provide a playful presentation of way-finding

On the third floor the boards, still vertical, are installed at a slight angle, alternating back and forth, and creating a line down the corridor.

Wood slats applied at angles presents a variation of the design theme

By the fifth floor the boards have been cut away and the wood is cut at an angle. The cut wood and the alternating boards all creating dynamic lines down the corridor.

Wood slats applied at angles presents a variation of the design theme

I was inspired but how does one take that inspiration and apply it to a residential renovation?

What would happen if we left the paradigm of vertical balusters behind and tried something new?


It starts with a sketch. The beginnings of an idea. First the balusters. Instead of a typical 2x2 post, let’s try something flat and thin, to mimic the corridors at MIT. That set ups the language and the design principles for the entire house. If the columns are wrapped, why do they need to be wrapped vertically? Let’s instill the language from the balusters into the rest of the porch and throughout the house. Next it was the cedar shake at the gable, then the lattice under the porch. Even the light fixtures reflect the language and movement created by the alternating balusters.



From straight on you don’t experience the movement. Your eye may not even notice the column shape, you expect to see straight columns so you probably do.

After, angled theme on wood siding, angular columns

But take a step to the side and the angles really start to show. In fact they look like they are installed in a V shape, particularly at the stair railing, but they aren’t. When you drive by slowly the balusters look like they are moving. I love that so much dynamism and movement can be created with the manipulation straight lines.

After, angled theme on handrail apparent, providing visual movement as you pass by the property

Join us next week to see how the design ideation brought the interior to life

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