Ensculptic House, 670 North Branch Road, Minnetrista, Minnesota

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Image courtesy of highwayhighlights.com
Image courtesy of ensculptic.com
Address: 670 Branch Road N
Minnetrista, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1969
Historic Function: House/single dwelling or duplex
Current Function: House/single dwelling or duplex
Architect or source of design: Winslow Elliott Wedin
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Other
First Owner: Jim and Letabeth Littlejohn


Enscultpic was the brainchild of architect Winslow Wedin, built in the summer of 1969. Winslow, a local architect who had a studio in Plymouth, brought seven architecture students from Auburn University in Texas and they camped out over the summer while building the home. It’s often described as a “mushroom house,” a “hobbit house,” or the “marshmallow house.” It’s difficult to describe it. [1]

Designer/Architect Winslow Elliot Wedin described the project to build the Enscupltic house:

"In 1967 I proposed E-IV to Walker Art Center , in Minneapolis as a summer student sculptural project. I thought this might give me a better understanding of the ease and strength of construction. The students working on the project would have an opportunity to experiment with a space within a structural sculpture without the fear of doing anything wrong.

"Bill Wilson, an engineer at Norman, who on occasion work with Bruce Goff was on the teaching staff and experimenting with light weight gas filled concrete. He would help...

In early 1969, Jim had secured financing from an independent source. All that remained was finding the builder. I offered to become the design-build General Contractor, putting in my builder’s fee for a “piece of the action” if any Lovnes resulted in showing the building. I approached my students with the idea of helping me build this experimental home in Minnesota. They Loved it! We had several meetings at ou rAuburn apartment outlining the summer’s activities. Court Smith, one of my potential clients, of the Minnesota Summerhill School would house and feed the students for the summer on the school’s Spray Island in Lake Minnetonka (near the site). Court had a boat for transport the troop.. Jayme Littlejohn and the 7 Students from Auburn became the construction crew.

As spring semester at Auburn ended, we all gathered at the site in Minnesota. I had a old truck with a camper body on the back borrowed from Carol’s uncle Robert, which I painted up with the Ensculptic logo and parked it on site as our construction shack.

Carol, Deborah, Maya, Boyd and Myself camped at the Architect’s Workshop - Studio in Plymouth. The 3 kids slept inside and Carol and I outside on the screen porch often under a rain tarp. The screen porch had a screen roof.

At the job site, student Joe and the others laid out the batter boards with nails driven at 4’ centers. The free form building design was on a 4’ grid locating major points in the plan. The bull dozer roughed out the major levels. I identified the center core fireplace - mast . A footing was poured and the circular cardboard form with it’s stainless steel fireplace flue was erected. We (the students) lifted and poured the concrete mast.

Student Sparky built a small wooden platform across the valley and with Jim’s super 8 movie camera was documenting the construction in slow motion. “OK, Sparks, run over and shoot another 10 frames.”

With the bulldozer available it was time to build the entry tunnel. A 20 car parking lot had been graded (visitor parking) and an earth berm built on the North side of the house (to be planted in pine trees as a wind brake). We selected the tunnel location and carved in structural ribs, placed reinforcing rods and wire mesh and poured an earth formed concrete shell. After a few days the dozer excavated the earth and we had our tunnel - thanks Soleri.

Bemus Bag Co. was sewing up the canvas (burlap) Mondrian form on a gym floor following my plan drawings.; the local power co. had a boom truck allocated; Jim had a small Ford van to pick up the drums of foam resin; and we had a professional spray gun operator ready.

The cables went up, attached to a ring at the top of the mast coming down to screw ground anchors (from the power company). Having learned from the fiberglass roof of my Guest Studio, I terminated the roof edge with a round plastic PVC tube so the fiberglass would not pull away and shrink from the edges. Inside the tubes was another cable allowing us to adjust the arches as we tensioned the roof. We were ready to spray. “Sparks. remember to document - another 10 frames”

The spray foam went as planned, except, I had not anticipated that as the foam entered the burlap and expanded, it stretched the burlap rippling the surface. This was ultimately covered by more foam. In all we probably had 3” of foam, probably resulting in an R-30 insulation or more. Since the foam deteriorated in sunlight, we all had to climb up on the roof and smooth out any rough spots immediately for the fiberglass application.

The clerestory was built next with Plexiglas windows edged in foam rubber tubing , for movement, and sprayed in place. The fiberglass roof came next using the same operator spraying the surface and the students rolling the glass down. I think it took just one long day. Skylights had been cut into the foam and the piece sent out to have a double Plexiglas dome formed to match. Than foamed into place. A final gel coat to protect all from UV sunlight, (wanted gold flec), and the floor was sealed.

Interior walls came next. Here we had two approaches. One was wire mesh on a wood frame sprayed with foam. Initially we found much of the foam went through the mesh, so we all had to stand in back of the wall with a sheet of poly. The second technique was for the library which needed flat interior walls for shelving. The curved walls were 2’ wide by 8’ high plywood secured together with nails and wire. The foam on the back side acted as both glue and rigidity. It worked very well.

The electrical inspector questioned if the boxes foamed in place would hold. I did a chin-up on one in the ceiling Problem solved. the ducts for the floor for HVAC were a fiber reinforced sewn tube. With an air blower making it round, the duct was foamed under and over as insulation and holding it round. The concrete floor could now be poured.

I had shown in the drawings some abstract window openings in the dining room For this location, we had some rectilinear insulated glass units made and placed them into the walls. The openings were masked to my shapes and foamed in place.

Anticipating that the shell would move in heat, cold and wind, the sliding glass doors and casement windows were edged in insulating foam tubing and yes, foamed in place.

Mrs. Littlejohn requested to have a studio added to the building. Since I did not want to modify the finished form at this time, I suggested an underground room. The excavation would connect the space at the lowest level. I do not remember too much about this work. I believe Jim contracted for the slab, footings and concrete block walls.

Foam was added to the walls. With three students we built a wood domed form over the walls with a skylight and poured a concrete roof which was foamed and sodded over. Only the skylight is exposed.

The front entry was to have a wide pivoting door . We glued two hollow core doors together, one 2’ and one 3’. Foam was applied to both sides and a plan of the house carved on the exterior. Foam rubber gaskets around the edges and a metal vertical. rod at the 2-3 joint With the house exterior complete, this was probably the end of the 8 mm movie documentation. I think I saw it once. It may be lost as has the model. I a have retained all of my field notes and onsite details in two metal file cases. What to do with them? We were almost finished and the summer was coming to an end.

I believe Boot and Court worked with Jim on the cabinets etc."



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