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Anatomy of a Haunted House: Frightening Facades


There’s a design formula to the traditional haunted house. Among the hallmarks of horror:

A Historic Pedigree. Gothic, of course, is the go-to architectural style for scares, but a spare, blank-windowed farmhouse can also induce apprehension. And the notorious Amityville Horror home was a mild-mannered Dutch colonial.

Fearsome Features. Turrets, towers, and wrap-around porches are all specter-worthy settings. Leaded- or stained-glass windows—cobwebs are optional, but a nice touch—frame blood moons quite well.

The No-Maintenance Look. While crumbling staircases, broken or boarded-up windows, and peeling roof shingles may be a handyman’s nightmare, such decrepit details heighten the impression that a house has been abandoned to the spirits.


The contemporary buildings featured in this post display none of these classic traits, but have some disturbing qualities nonetheless. Their foreboding facades—some evoking mechanical torture chambers, others with a ghostly or skeletal character—might deter even die-hard trick-or-treaters.


Of their transformation of a former prison/school/funeral home, artist-architects Christophe Berdaguer and Marie Péjus state, “To us, architecture is a space for imaginative possibilities, for telling stories to ourselves and others. It is above all a collective dream, that of a community of people and ghosts.”



House 77 was designed by dIONISO Lab. Stainless steel shutters covering the front of the building are perforated with cryptic symbols. These siglas poveiras are part of a proto-writing system that has been used by the inhabitants of Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal for many generations. Typically inscribed in wood or stone, they are used to signify family histories, identify property, and are also used as magical-religious marks.



Meticulous Photoshopping is behind [ahem] the work of French photographer Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy. He says, “This series of photographs offers a vision of an unknown world that would only be a picture, without intimate space, with looks as the only refuge.”


Photo: Yao Li

As part of the China International Practical Exhibition of Architecture, the Number Four House by AZL Architects sits in an isolated valley. Much as a traditional Chinese scroll reveals select segments of its content, the horizontal breaks in the building’s contoured concrete facade control the views of the surrounding terrain.



Rare Architects wrapped a laser-cut scrim made of powder-coated aluminum around the Town Hall Hotel in London, an adaptive reuse project. It acts as a phantasm of sorts, blurring the boundaries between architectural eras and places, an apparition in the streetscape.

Doctor in the {Haunted} Haus: Frozen in Fear

prescription-notepad-2Dear Doctor,

I’ve recently noticed that a number of my peers are being recognized by our profession, and have been accepted as Fellows to the American Institute of Architects. I feel that I’m at the appropriate stage of my career to be elevated to this honor, but when I looked into the application process found that it’s really complicated, intimidating—even scary! Do you have any advice on how I can overcome these jitters about professional development?


Frozen in Fear


So, you want your name in lights? That’s terrific! Well, ’tis the witching season, so let’s hope your name isn’t lit up in lights like a jack-o’-lantern! Of course, we like Halloween (the candy part, not the ghosts and skeletons part). Eek—the Doctor shouldn’t prescribe candy, because it’s not good for you! So in the spirit of the season, let’s confront our demons, shall we, Frozen in Fear? Here’s what I think you need to do to thaw yourself out.


First, it’s essential to remember that no one else is going to toot your horn unless you do it. I know, I know—you want to think that if you design great buildings, people will see them and just call you up to design a new project (the Doctor has talked about this elsewhere, and she’s pretty sure that it’s possible for that to happen. But realistically, you can’t always rely upon that as a strong outreach strategy.)


Here’s what does work. Halloween is all about putting on a costume, right? If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing personal recognition, then the Doctor advises you to try on a new outfit. Look, this is all about your reputation, and we want to help you grow it. There are many ways to do this—getting press, winning awards for your work, and getting professional recognition for you, yourself! You—and you alone—can build your reputation. There, I said it, and it wasn’t so scary. As some of you architects know, applications for Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) are due on October 14. Similar professional recognition programs include the Royal Institute of British Architects’ international fellowships (FRIBA) and the American Society of Civil Engineering Fellows. Let me encourage you to start pursuing a fellowship or honorary fellowship in architecture, or whatever your field may be. There’s just no substitute for being recognized by a jury of your peers for your hard-earned work (I know, that sounds much more like a walk through a cemetery than a stroll through the roses, but bear with me!). Also, make sure you get advice from your colleagues who have been through the process—you don’t want to have to find your way in the dark. These can be time-consuming projects, but if you start early, they’re a lot, lot less scary.

Architects, R.I.P.

While architects come and go, their edifices live on. Seeking immortality on a smaller scale, the grave markers of some noted designers provide a bit of insight into how these creative forces sought to be remembered. If this subject fascinates you, we recommend Their Final Place: A Guide to the Graves of Notable American Architects by Henry Kuehn.



Alvar Aalto

Hietaniemi Cemetary

Helsinki, Finland



Le Corbusier

Cimetiére de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

Cote d’Azur, France



Bruce Goff

Graceland Cemetery

Chicago, Illinois



Paul Rand

Temple Beth El Memorial Park

Norwalk, Connecticut



Paul Rudolph

Yale Art and Architecture Building *

New Haven, Connecticut

* In 1998, a portion of the architect’s cremated remains were introduced into the duct-work of the building as part of “The Ventilator Project” by artist Mark Bain.



Carlo Scarpa

Brion-Vega Cimitero

Veneto, Italy



Louis Sullivan

Graceland Cemetery

Chicago, Illinois



Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Graceland Cemetery

Chicago, Illinois

Read All About It


We’re proud to share some of our clients’ stories that have appeared in the media in September. Next week, in keeping with the frightful nature of October [we refer, of course, to Halloween—not the presidential campaigns] we’ll take a look at tombstones of designers and architects.

Orion Fulton of Arup shares thoughts on creative financing of higher education construction projects in College Planning & Management

A new view of luxury retail design by Kevin Kennon Architects is reviewed in Visual Merchandising & Store Design magazine

Texas Architect editor Aaron Seward pens an insightful profile of Houston architect Dillon Kyle

Deryl McKissack, president of McKissack & McKissack, speaks to The Washingtonian about building the new National Museum of African American Culture and History

Dezeen reports on the new elevated park in Atlanta designed by Rogers Partners