Saturday, March 15, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood

The Brookland neighborhood is having a revitalization and is adding to it's history of well designed and unique single family houses. What makes this area so cool is that the houses are of all different styles from many different periods. Some recent additions have added a modern element to the streetscape's diversity. The twelve hundred block of Kearney Street is sided with a series of houses situated high on top of a steep hill. The lineup on this side is composed of variations of arts and crafts bungalows and Victorian classics. Large porches and varied rooflines dominate the compositions. Mid-block, a looming mass of what looks to be an abstraction of the typical "house form" with a flat front and triangle roof, breaks the stylistic fabric. This modern house plays on the traditional forms of a basic house and incorporates asymmetrical gestures to throw it off balance in a subtle way. What would historically have been ordered punches for fenestration are scattered around horizontally and vertically. There is no hint at floor levels or interior divisions. It is as though a Mondrian painting was punched into the facade. The openings are stretched in different rectilinear directions. Translucent tubular material glazes half while the others remain transparent. The simplicity of the materials, vertical natural wood siding and the dual glazing mitigates the complicated pattern. The sides of the house are clad in a type of panel system with horizontal bandings of wood and glazing intervening. The massing seems to be split in half along the sides. I wish I could have had a 360 degree view of the entire structure to be able to better understand these moves. From the Street view it just looks like all of the attention was paid to the front elevation with the sides as afterthought. The front view is quite elegant in its simplified abstraction, but turn the corner to view the side and it has a prefabricated warehouse quality to it. Why didn't the punched abstraction somehow wrap around one of the corners and follow the side part way? This could have helped tie everything together by making the elevations a bit more cohesive. It also would have strengthened the concept of asymmetry. All in all this house is a very bold design that adds a nice touch to the diversity of styles in the neighborhood. It could have been even better had it not held back on the interplay of massing and gone a bit more overboard with the theme of asymmetry.

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