Fulton designers bring home architecture awards

Chris Strom of Fulton remodeled a kitchen in a 1915 Tudor home in East Isles originally designed by Franklin Ellerbe. Photo by Alyssa Lee Photography

At least two Fulton residents received awards this year from the national and local chapters of the American Institute of Architects.

Karen Lu, a project designer at HGA, won the national AIA Young Architects Award. Christopher Strom is a recipient of the AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award, along with Jonathan Bartling and Angela Wolf Scott.

In a recent interview, Strom said his projects aren’t far from home. He designed a rec room with dormers overlooking Lake of the Isles, a Modernist wine cellar between Isles and Cedar Lake, and a 380-square-foot living space off the old trolley line near Lake Harriet.

“I feel really lucky to be able to live and work in the same place,” Strom said. “…I love having a walkable community.”

Strom is also involved in community work. He helps organize the local BLEND Awards and serves as chair of the Fulton Neighborhood Association’s Zoning Committee. And he helped craft Minneapolis rules related to accessory dwelling units (ADUs, occasionally referred to as “granny flats”).

“I got interested in doing them before it was legal,” he said.

Photo by Alyssa Lee Photography
Photo by Alyssa Lee Photography

Strom said he enjoyed the challenge of designing a 380-square-foot ADU near Lake Harriet that sits above a one-car garage and is accessible from the main house deck.

“Every square inch you allocated to one thing, you had to take it out of something else,” he said. “This was more of a game of editing.”

The kitchen holds one countertop, an 18-inch dishwasher, a two-burner cook top, a fridge under the counter and a toaster oven. A built-in cabinet delineates the bedroom. Large windows and a sliding glass door help prevent the space from feeling too small, he said.

“I’m really interested in finding a way to get natural light into spaces,” he said.

Photo by Alyssa Lee Photography
Photo by Alyssa Lee Photography

At one client’s request, Strom needed to bring daylight into a wine cellar without impacting the bottles. He found structural glass stair treads typically used in shopping malls, and built a steel “light slot” with a mirror finish to give the wine room indirect light.

“There are some tricks to how to bounce light around in space,” he said.

Strom tries to make the most of views and give each home a sense of place.

“If you’re on Lake of the Isles, you should have a way to see the lake from a majority of rooms,” he said.

Fulton resident and fellow award winner Karen Lu has worked on corporate and government projects including a U.S. Land Port of Entry in Detroit and the Derby Line U.S. Land Port of Entry in Vermont. In an article by HGA last winter, she said a love of drawing attracted her to architecture, and a love of problem-solving cemented it.

“I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in many innovative initiatives, such as climate risk analysis and resiliency, integrated energy modeling, art in architecture collaboration, repurposing site materials, and pollinator assessment — which all set precedents for future GSA [General Services Administration] projects and future HGA projects,” she said.

Lu has served on the board of Yinghua Academy in Northeast Minneapolis and helped the school complete an addition and renovation in 2014.