The 2,000-square-foot structure was built for the film on the banks of 55-acre, man-made Maple Lake in the Palos Forest Preserve, at 95th near Archer. To avoid interfering with the ice fishing that’s one of the lake’s major winter attractions, construction didn’t start until February 2005. The local engineering firm of McDonough Associates and the film’s production designer, Nathan Crowley, had to design the project so it could be completed in just ten weeks. Nearly 100 carpenters, welders, and painters were required to meet the deadline. To accommodate the film crew and its equipment, the house had to support up to 100 pounds per square foot, about double the standard for a typical residence. Thirty-five tons of steel were used in its frame, which had to be engineered to resist movement under strong spring winds that could crack the large panes of glass. And it had to be done without diagonal bracing, rejected by Crowley because it would have obstructed camera angles.
To speed things up the house— ostensibly built in the lake, on stilts—was actually built beside the lake, on land. A temporary dam was constructed, and behind it nearly 1,200 cubic feet of soil excavated, to a depth of 20 feet. A steel foundation was put in place, then concrete footing was poured for ten-foot-high steel supports, and the building was fabricated on top. When it was finished, the dam was removed, water flooded in, and the lake was brought to the house.
A year later, about the time of the film’s release, the Lake House’s exceptional engineering got it named a finalist in the small-project category of awards handed out last month by the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois. But if you’re tempted to run out to Maple Lake to check it out for yourself, think again.
To gain approval for construction, the production team had to deal with EPA guidelines, building and zoning regulations, and interested third parties such as the Audubon Society and Friends of the Forest Preserve. Though the house quickly became something of a tourist attraction, when filming wrapped after three months it was quickly, unsentimentally dismantled. A new fishing pier now marks the site.