Osterberg – Dream House On the Prairie

book cover

About the Book

Dream House on the Prairie is an architect’s journey through several decades, with candid accounts of what went wrong—and what went right—in reconstructing a deteriorating century-old farmhouse. The author reflects on dealing with contractors, carpenters, and crafts persons, and the impact that various tumultuous construction projects had on the family. He recounts experimentations with passive solar design, natural ventilation, wind energy, geo-thermal systems, openings between living spaces, and extensive visual connections to the exterior.

From the Foreword

I finally had time to complete my account of turning a dream into a reality. The dream evolved over several years from planning, to design, to rehabilitating and reconstructing an old farmhouse, with successful and not so successful innovations along the way. The misadventures included three years of intense construction followed by more than four decades of refinements while living in the house, a house that will never be completely finished. 

This mostly chronological adventure began in 1977 and consists of accounts of many stumbles, missteps, and costly mistakes I made, despite my education and training as an architect. These seem humorous in hindsight but were not funny when I suffered through them. My philosophy about design is interwoven throughout. It includes four major themes that influenced the design process:

1) energy conserving approaches, including passive solar heating, natural ventilation, and daylighting strategies,

2) incorporating recycled building materials during construction,

3) visual connections to the natural environment on the outside, and

4) family values and attitudes about openness and privacy.

Part One of the book is the ‘journey’ or ‘pilgrimage’ that was mostly written in short segments, following events as they occurred. As you read through the stories, you may think some are exaggerated or far-fetched. However, everything you are about to read happened, and if you find the accounts entertaining, you will undoubtedly enjoy two classic movies; ‘Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House’, made in 1941 starring Cary Grant, and ‘The Money Pit’, made in 1986 starring Tom Hanks and Shelly Long. We watched ‘The Money Pit’ after rehabilitating and reconstructing our house and laughed with great emotion at many misadventures, similar to those we had experienced.

Part Two is a thoughtful ‘reconsideration’ of the journey 45 years later. It includes a reflective analysis of my idealism, with frank admissions of what worked well and what did not. As you read Part Two, you will learn about approaches you may want to take, and approaches you may not want to take, in planning, designing, and building your dream house.

The reader should keep in mind that since the vast majority of Part One was written many years ago by a younger version of me, that narrative has a somewhat different tone than the narrative in Part Two, which was written decades later. I recently added a historical account of Daniel McCarthy, who built the farmhouse in the 1860s, but since the account belonged in Part One, the narrative was added there.

How Do I Buy the Book?

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About the Author

Arvid Osterberg is University Professor at Iowa State University, where he teaches graduate courses on inclusive design and historic preservation in the Department of Architecture. He is a registered architect and holds two degrees in architecture from the University of Illinois and a doctorate in architecture from the University of Michigan.

Praise for the Book

‘Dream House’ is a delight! It almost reads like a novel. You have aspirations, conflicts, villains, humor, surprises, mistakes, dangers, and successes. Who could ask for anything more? [The author] also does an excellent job of clarifying terms and operations that non-builders would not be familiar with.

Bob Boston, Professor of English Emeritus
English Department, Iowa State University

The book is a wonderful documentary of a pilgrimage to remodel, restore, and breathe new life into an old farmhouse on the plains. It is a fun read.

Steve Prater, Architect (retired)

This book is proof that the prairie roots of sustainable design run deep. It shows the passion, determination, and joy that comes with seeing a design vision become reality. Arvid Osterberg is a remarkably sensitive and compassionate architect.

Bruce Bonestroo, Architect

Arvid Osterberg paints the words; he offers ingenuity and heart, like the winding staircase that he calls a masterfully crafted sculpture, we too are “sculpture; living flesh and flaw; beauty, promise, and possibilities.” This book is about a lot more than reclaiming a once ignored building. Thank you, Architect, for reminding us that all of us can live our dreams…   

Jim Boardman, Story Teller

Book Details

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Culicidae Press (September 15, 2022)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 266 pages
ISBNs‏ : ‎ 978-1683150404 (paperback)
978-1683150411 (hardcover case-wrap),
B0BFJB4TGF (Kindle)
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.3 pounds (paperback and hardcover case-wrap)
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7 x 0.6 x 10 inches


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