Dan Hisel

For this installment of AMNP’s Ninja of the Month feature we looked at the work of Dan Hisel Architect. The following articles were featured on AMNP on a weekly basis, and have been assembled here so as to make them more easily accessible / navigable as a group.



[Image: Z-Box]

Welcome to the start of the third installment of our continuing AMNP feature, Ninja(s) of the Month.

This month we’ll be featuring the work of Boston based Dan Hisel Architect [DHA]. Dan received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky and a Masters of Architecture with distinction from Yale – and went on to start his own practice in 1996, then Dan Hisel Design, with the design and construction of the Cadyville Sauna in upstate New York. Self-described as being “committed to the enrichment of contemporary life through the poetic articulation of spatial experience”, DHA’s practice covers a wide spectrum of projects – from furniture, to private residences, to commercial and institutional projects.


[Image: Cadyville Sauna]

Our design approach to each project emerges from a clear understanding of the life to be lived (the client’s needs, routines, and rituals), the intricacies of the specific site, the creative milieu of our contemporary culture, the urgency of sustainable building practices, and the ever-present constraints of time and money. The goal is always to arrive at original solutions that resonate in meaningful ways with those who encounter them. Sometimes the poetic idea is a simple one: make the building act as a frame, for example, in order to foreground the activities of kids in an art school. Sometimes it is more existential: make the building disappear altogether. Regardless of the tactic, the strategy remains the same: minimal gestures for maximal effect.

~Dan Hisel, Dan Hisel Architect


[Image: Heavy/Light House]

Many of you will be familiar with a number of Hisel’s projects, in particular the Cadyville Sauna and the Heavy/Light House – the latter of which won a number of awards including a Progressive Architecture Award Citation and a Boston Society of Architects award for unbuilt architecture [both in 2004]. Hisel was also named a winner of the Young Architects Forum by the Architectural League of New York in 2005 – and subsequently published in Young Architects 7: Situating. Additionally, readers of AMNP will remember Dan for the Z-Box, which we featured in 2007.


[Image: 9 Salem]

In addition to his practice, Dan is currently an Adjunct Faculty member at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston – and has taught previously at Roger Williams University [where I met him], California College of the Arts in San Francisco, Syracuse University, Catholic University, and Iowa State University.



Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth (and even still), everyone at some point has lived in a situation where space was limited. To make the best of any situation, personalization and creativity are used in conjunction with function to make sure the use of remaining space is maximized. Now, you could undertake the task of coming up with the perfect solution to the spatial dilemma yourself, OR you can simply call up Dan Hisel Design and have him do it for you.


The Z-Box is a steel-framed, freestanding…um, box (dimensions: 12 ft. x 12 ft. x 10 ft. h) within a renovated 1,400 square foot loft in Lynn, Mass. The owner’s spent around 18,000 dollars (cost saving by self laboring) for this wood-lined sleeping space (that’s where the Z in Z-Box comes from=Zzzz or sleep).



Inside the minimalist Douglas Fir interior recesses were created for bookshelves and artificial lighting. Aside from the sleeping area, the Z-Box holds additional functions including more shelving, storage/clothes closets, and even doggy beds (yeah, dope), all cut into the translucent polycarbonate exterior walls that sheath it.


The owners also relied on the Z-Box as an object that separates the public and private zones. Behind [south on the plan above] is an area designated for a small art studio.


Now, we here at MNP know what you’re all thinking – I want one. Well, us too [would look great in the dojo]. Well we’re all in luck, as we here at MNP have recently learned from Dan that he is currently redeveloping the design of the Z-Box as a prefabricated, component-based system whose modules can be rolled through a standard door and assembled much faster than the original – and the price will hopefully drop some from the 18g’s too [although we still advise you start saving now]. Some schematic design work has even begun on different variations on the Z-Box design – possibly creating elevated sleeping spaces, work spaces, media rooms, and more. And with 25 letters in the alphabet left we can envision an entire series of these Dan Hisel ‘Boxes’ rolling out sometime in the future. We’re waiting on the ‘M’ ‘N’ and ‘P’ Boxes…


Also – did anyone see this on HGTV? We were told by Dan that the loft space was going to be featured on one of the network’s shows and would like to link to/feature the clip.

::photos by Peter Vanderwarker::

[[article by dubs]]

ed. note: pugs and brunette shown not included


Z-Box 2


Many of you will be familiar with Dan Hisel’s first Z-Box, which you may have sen featured on AMNP a few years back. Built in Lynn, MA, the original Z-Box was constructed by Dan himself, and assembled entirely on-site.

When a second Z-Box was requested, this time for a new client in Albany, Hisel built upon what he had learned through building the original – namely, that pre-fab was the way to go. While designed to meet a different set of client needs [different sized bed, new storage requirements, etc], one of the most striking differences between the Z-Box 2 and the original is that it’s components were fabricated by a company called Continental Consolidated Industries from Worcester, MA. Built of perforated steel, translucent fiberglass, and oak veneer plywood, the Z-Box 2 was designed and constructed as a dozen ‘chunks’ that could be easily transported and carried through a standard doorway. These ‘chinks’ were completed, shipped, and assembled in the client’s loft space in Albany – with on-site assembly being completed in under 48 hours.


RAW Art Works


Located in Lynn, MA, RAW Art Works strives to provide local youth with ‘a creative home where they can safely explore difficult personal and community issues through the creation of art’. Our featured Ninja of the Month, Dan Hisel, was asked by the organization to re-imagine the first floor of their building, located in Central Square – an area currently undergoing a revitalization led by local artists and cultural organizations.


The space was designed to function as both a studio space for the young artists, as well as a gallery for exhibitions. As is fairly standard for a gallery, the space is left as open as possible – white walls with an open floor plan. In order to bring some interest to the space, and to engage the public – specifically the street, as this is on the center’s first floor – Hisel has created a steel frame, or ‘box’, which he has inserted into the façade.


This box box serves the initial purpose of opening the center to the street, creating a visual connection with the square and it’s pedestrians – which it takes one step further, by literally opening out the the sidewalk. The interior of the box then features a raised platform, allowing the center’s façade to serve both as a storefront, displaying student work to passers-by, and as a stage opening to the street [above].


Alternately, the platform can be used as a stage to address visitors assembled within the gallery Рor to play movies/video installations [above+below]. In another move to draw pedestrians into the gallery, the screen that descends is translucent Рallowing passers-by to view whatever visitors within the gallery are watching, essentially transforming the fa̤ade itself into a street-side movie screen.


When not in use as a ‘stage’, this platform can be rearranged to create pedestals and/or tables, and reveal bench seating along the window – creating a type of lounge / reception space for visitors in the front of the gallery.


Essentially, the project is an attempt to place the gallery itself – in it’s entirety – on display to the square. In doing so, the center distinguishes itself from surrounding storefronts, while expressing it’s desire to interact directly with the local community – both to ‘show off’ the work of the young artists, and to encourage community participation in RAW Art Works programs.


Posted: June 4th, 2009
at 11:56am by orangemenace



Comments: 3 comments


3 Responses to 'Dan Hisel'

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  1. hello. i am a young and upcoming architect and i am truely inspired by what you can do with small spaces. this is truely amazing.


    4 Nov 09 at 11:05 am


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