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Critic questions whether new home for NDSU president is a copy

FARGO - At least one local architect questions whether the design for a new North Dakota State University president's house is unique enough to be a campus landmark.

Phil Stahl said he and area architects have been buzzing this week about how similar plans for the president's house look to the south Fargo home of Terry Stroh, the architect who designed the NDSU project.

"The exterior is almost exactly the same," said Stahl, of Stahl Architects in Fargo.

Stroh said there are similarities between the two homes, but the NDSU house will have different materials and a different interior.

"I wouldn't say it's the same as my house by any means," Stroh said.

The NDSU Alumni Association's Sherri Schmidt, who led the president's house building committee, said Stroh hit the mark with what members wanted.

Schmidt said she had never seen Stroh's house and the committee did not model the project after other houses.

Both homes are two stories that face north with a three-stall garage attached to the side. Stroh's garage faces east, while the president's garage will face west.

The front entrance of each home has a similar look. The rear of each home features columns and French doors.

Stroh's house on Timberline Drive is about 3,200 square feet; the president's is about 5,200 square feet.

Stroh's house is stone; the president's house will be red brick.

The main floor of the president's home is entertainment space, and living quarters are upstairs. Stroh's house has a master bedroom on the first floor.

Stahl said he was familiar with Stroh's house because architects tend to be curious about other architects' homes. When Stahl and others in his firm saw the design for the president's home, they questioned the similarities.

"We struggle to make everything unique," he said. "It doesn't sit well with us."

Stahl, a former president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association near NDSU, said it's embarrassing for the university that the president's house is not original.

"It's not unique. It's not Division I," Stahl said. "To me, it's not indicative of NDSU."

Stroh said he's not surprised that another local architect would criticize him.

"I've gotten a lot of crap for having too much work at NDSU," he said.

Stroh is the architect for two downtown NDSU projects and the Bison Sports Arena remodel. NDSU also hired Stroh for the Memorial Union renovation and an addition for Sudro Hall.

Stahl said his firm was interested in designing the president's house, but did not make a pitch because they thought area architect Richard Moorhead, who did preliminary work on the project, would get the job.

Schmidt said the 12-member committee selected Stroh out of four architects.

"Terry has clearly demonstrated his professionalism. He listens well," Schmidt said. "Once you find a winning combination, sometimes you like to stay working with that individual, too."

The final design approved by the committee was the fifth design Stroh submitted.

The home Stroh first designed was larger and looked much different, but the committee kept scaling it back to stay within the $900,000 budget, Schmidt said.

After Stroh was selected for the process, he told the committee he would waive his design fee, Schmidt said. Stroh said he does plan to charge an interior design fee.

Stroh said his designs tend to have similar curved elements that some say is his signature mark. A lake home he designed has a similar entrance.

Architect Moorhead, who made a pitch to design the president's house, said he wouldn't find it unusual if the president's house looks similar to Stroh's house.

"Most architects' success is based on stylistic similarities from project to project," Moorhead said. "It's hard to design a house that wouldn't have your characteristics embedded in it to a certain degree."

Moorhead did say he was frustrated to see suggestions he made to the committee, such as a circular driveway and adjacent parking, incorporated in Stroh's final design.

President Joseph Chapman said he has never seen Stroh's house and he's not concerned if the two houses look alike.

"There are similar-looking houses all over the community," Chapman said. "I think it's a home that will meet the needs of our campus."

Stroh said his main concern is that his design meets what the NDSU committee wanted.

"We don't care what another architect thinks," Stroh said. "We care about the client."