Substance Architecture


Marion County, Iowa

Situated on a bucolic 65-acre site, this 7,000 square foot conference center was conceived as a meeting place and respite for multigenerational family owners of a major manufacturing company in southeast Iowa. The Treehuis provides a place for family members to gather annually, conduct business, and build lasting memories. The modest building includes a large multifunction dining space for up to 100 family members, lounge and breakout spaces for adults and children, service spaces, exterior decks, and a dock. The building serves as a trailhead as well, inviting family members to explore the wooded site and surrounding wetland.

The design was developed to leverage its natural setting to create a series of unique spatial sequences for the visitor. The building is carefully nestled into the grade – it sits “in the hill” rather than “on the hill.” This siting, in combination with an extensive green roof, conceals both the mass of the building and the pond from the primary approach. One path moves visitors down a set of steps along what begins as a low masonry wall. This wall “grows” to become the building. Upon entry, the path is terminated by a large window looking across a heretofore hidden pond toward the distant tree line. An alternative entry path is provided from the parking area that crosses a bridge, moves into the building between two masonry masses, and into the communal dining space. Both paths utilize the site topography and forest to gradually reveal the building.

The interior spaces are developed to take advantage of framed views out to the site. The exterior glazing is consolidated and focused to heighten this effect. During the day, the result is a series of warm, daylit spaces visually tied to their remarkable setting. In the evening, the building becomes a lantern, welcoming the family back from the activities of the day for food and fellowship.

Corey Gaffer


Best in Class - Commercial, 2022
Brick in Architecture Award

American Architecture Award, 2022
The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design and The European Centre Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies

Excellence in Architecture Award, 2022
American Institute of Architects - Central States Region

Grand Award, 2022
Masonry Institute of Iowa

Excellence in Design - Merit Award, 2021
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter


Iowa Architect, Winter 2023
Metal Architecture, February 2023
Iowa Architect, Summer 2022
Iowa Architect, Winter 2022

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