Michael Huber chooses lifestyle over city office
On the drive up the wooded lane to Michael Huber’s house and office, it occurs to you that it looks like the home of an architect.
The house -- two identical gabled buildings offset by half a level and joined by a stair tower -- blends into the hillside. A corner of windows in the high-ceiling living room faces the west and south, overlooking the landscape from the highest point in St. Croix County and allowing in natural light and the surrounding woods.
Tucked in behind the house is a two-story outbuilding with a peaked roof and distinctive angles. The office of Michael Huber Architects is on the upper floor. Below is a shop where he makes a few of the unique components that go into his buildings.
“What architects are, is sculptors of space,” Huber says. “I don’t really want to inhabit a box. If we can play with space -- the ceiling, the lines, the angles of the walls -- that just creates a more dynamic experience, I think.”
With his office hidden away in the woods at 351 Highview Road in the town of Hudson, Huber has gone somewhat unnoticed in the community. At least until he began doing work for YMCA Camp St. Croix.
He did the design for the remodeling of the Camp St. Croix dining hall that took place a few years ago, and was the architect for the LEED-Gold-certified King Leadership Center at the camp completed in 2012.
That doesn’t mean Huber has gone unrecognized in his field. His resume includes a long list of awards.
His house brought him a Residential Architects Vision and Excellence (RAVE) Award from the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The house also has been featured on the HGTV cable network.
He’s received the Governor’s MNGreat Award for his design of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization building in Minneapolis.
Other honors he’s earned include a National Building Excellence Award, the AIA Minnesota Young Architect Award, and multiple AIA Minnesota Presidential Citations.
As part of a team, Huber has been honored for his work on the Calhoun Square Vehicle Structure in Minneapolis, St. Thomas Becket Church in Eagan, Minn., Saint Mary’s Chapel in St. Paul, Saturn School of Tomorrow in St. Paul, Courage Center St. Croix in Stillwater, and the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion on Harriet Island in St. Paul.
Huber has been a guest juror and speaker for architectural competitions and industry award programs. He’s also served on the AIA Minnesota Board of Directors and is a past president of AIA St. Paul.
Many of Huber’s projects over 27 years in the industry have been in the Twin Cities metro area.
About 75 percent of his projects are commercial, government or institutional buildings, with residential design making up the rest.
He says the scale of his projects range from a playhouse to a $10 million transit facility in Chaska, Minn., that was completed last fall.
“Nothing is really too small,” he says. “Usually, our range is from zero dollars to $5 million.”
His clientele has remained largely in the Twin Cities since he and his wife, Jackie, came here 17 years ago. They moved to a house in North Hudson, initially, and then built their dream home about 10 years ago.
“I like to think that, unfortunately, I’m the best kept secret here in Hudson,” Huber says.
A lifestyle choice
Huber gave up a lucrative position with a St. Paul firm about 14 years ago to move to the country and start his own office.
It was a lifestyle choice. He wanted to see his daughters off to school in the morning and be there when they came home on the bus in the afternoon.
“If I was a corporate architect working in downtown Minneapolis, I couldn’t do that,” he says. “I’d probably be making more money, but I’m enjoying life a lot better.”
Jackie is a regional manager for Regis Corp., a Minneapolis company that operates corporate and franchised hair salons across the United States and Europe.
The Hubers’ daughters are Jordan, a junior at Hudson High School, and Tylor, an eighth-grader at the middle school. Both are athletes, involved in basketball, soccer, volleyball and track. Jordan is the leading scorer on the Raider girls’ basketball team.
The Hubers enjoy attending their girls’ athletic events, and the connection it gives them to the community and schools.
“I really am interested in understanding energy and being sustainable and that type of thing,” Huber says. “In terms of style, my bent is more on modern and clean-line architecture.”
But he also has designed traditional, and even log-style, buildings.
“As an architect, the main thing that we do is listen,” he says. “First and foremost, it’s not our home. It’s really understanding what they’re trying to say, and then interpreting that on paper -- hopefully, in a way that they hadn’t thought of before.”
“I don’t really want to recreate a style,” Huber adds. “If somebody wants to recreate a Victorian house, I’m not the person. If you want something that sort of captures that essence, in a new twist, then that’s something I’m interested in.”
He prefers “simple and strong” lines to “over-ornamentation.”
In addition to being a registered architect, Huber is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Accredited Professional.
He’s versed in the latest photovoltaic and solar-hot-water systems, as well as geothermal and passive-solar heating. But he says he tempers the latest innovations with more “tried and true” ways of conserving energy.
“In any building you are going to use energy. So how are you going to minimize that?” he asks. “Mainly it is (with) the shell. Insulate, insulate, insulate. Good quality of windows. … Then if you want to try some of these other newer systems -- like photovoltaics or solar hot water -- then yeah, let’s try some of those.”
The value of architects
Not surprisingly, Huber believes it always pays off to hire an architect to design your home or cabin.
“Grabbing a stock plan out of a book is not a good idea, because it’s not relating to that specific location,” he says. “You can use that as a starting point, but (the plan) has to evolve based on that setting -- just for your experiential qualities.”
The site is critical to the type of building put on it, Huber says. The orientation of north and south, where the northwest breezes come in, the trees on the property and the buildings and things next to it, all play a role in proper design.
He says architects can save money in the choice of building materials and that architect-designed buildings are more valuable than others, as well as more esthetically pleasing.
Partially because of the location of his office, Huber has embraced technology. He uses social media and his website, www.mhuberarchitects.com, functions as a web blog, complete with videos and podcasts on various topics that are updated every couple of weeks.
Photographs of his projects and information about them also can be found on the website.
Huber also is an accomplished photographer and the president of the Western Wisconsin Photography Club that meets the first Wednesday of every month at The Phipps Center for the Arts.