Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood

Architecture that speaks of it's time should be of high value to any place, and it usually is. Architecture that speaks of it's time, and is added on to, can be viewed as a difficult situation. The default answer to adding on to an existing historic structure is to blend in the new construction as seamlessly as possible. I find this being detrimental to the original building, almost a diluting of its importance and historical significance. When the new part is designed to stand as a piece of it's own time, utilizing modern materials, technology, and today's living standards, it not only becomes a very dynamic architecture on it's own merit, but also solidifies the historical significance of the original by not mimicking it or applying faux-replication. This example is one that has been done in the best possible way. It is important to be visibly unique from the existing, yet it is just as crucial to be sympathetic and contextual. The original corner Victorian townhouse is a wonderful example of architecture from the late 19th century, early 20th century. It stands on a very solid base, anchoring it to the block, while the upper floors become more light and punctured with fenestration. The base gives way to a series of cutbacks along the facade to expose angled bays and to created shadow lines and depth. The masonry banding is very horizontal, in juxtaposition to the more vertical elements of the towers and the chimneys. In a certain manner, the new addition can be perceived as another vertical tower. The base is more massive in masonry construction that contains a more simplified cut-out detail relating to the front entry of the original. The second and third levels are clad in a more light paneling material, which picks up on the color of the patina of the original copper detailing and slate roof. These levels create more of a vertical movement with the larger glass openings and the abstraction of a third chimney stack. The original masonry banding between the floors is further abstracted by making a more volumetric and dimensional banding which wraps around the corner and continues along the side elevation. When around to the rear alley elevation, the "lighter" clad exterior massing seems to collide with a more "massive" brick volume, which is of similar proportions to the neighboring rears of the other townhouses. The interplay between the massing, materiality, and surface articulation give this addition a very modern interpretation of the existing historic townhouse. The new architecture is very bold, but in a way that does not take away from the original or compete with it. Both of the architectures relate to each other and strengthen each others significance in the visual timetable of the changing city.


  1. it is on 19th Street, btwn Q and R streets, mid-block on the west side.