Sunday, July 6, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood : Floor Add-Ons

There are still many pockets within the city limits of the District that are exempt from historic preservation review boards. This fact does not mean that any designer should not take the history and the existing context into consideration when designing additions or new buildings in these areas. It does not mean that a free-for-all is appropriate or even the most simply "slapped on" addition will do the trick. The triangular shaped block along Florida Ave. and 10th Streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood has several examples where existing townhouses have been added onto with an entire new third floor. One of the following four examples is a totally new building anchoring both of these blocks on the pointed end of the irregular shaped block. The block of 10th Street has a continuous row of very simple historic Federal front townhouses. These buildings are very narrow and were never intended to have a strong and dominating street presence. One of the houses is in the process of being added onto with a full third floor addition. It is obvious that everything seems to be a disaster here by the Stop Work signs in the windows. The existing cornice brick work which ties the entire block together, has been eradicated. Concrete block is placed on top of the existing brick wall and two new windows are placed in the wall. The windows relate to nothing of the existing proportions and the new height of the floor is completely disproportionate to the existing two floors. Everything that was significant about this house has been destroyed. This is an example of exactly what NOT to EVER do to your townhouse. On the Florida Avenue side of the block, a similar Federal front townhouse has been added onto as well. A full third floor was added, but from the front elevation, it was set back several feet. This separation allows for the original brick cornice line of the block to continue and not break up the simple rhythm of the street. It is clad in a completely difference material, horizontal wood cladding, which helps play down the new verticality. The rear of the house is where the great modern design comes in to play. Large amounts of glazing open up the interior of this narrow and now tall house. The significant historical aspects of this house were kept intact, and the new modern addition plays with the scale and adds a fantastic new architecture to the existing. The new and the old respect each other and compliment each other in the composition. A wider version of these Federal fronts is located on the 10th Street side. The original detailing has been restored and is celebrated with a contrasting color scheme. An entirely new third floor has been added. The proportions of the new windows keeps to the original scheme as does the surrounding brick work. The unfortunate part of this addition is the scale and massing. The massing of the new floor is way too tall compared to the existing floor heights. This condition make it feel extremely top heavy. The new floor has no formal cornice. If the new roofline somehow played with the original design of the cornice, the verticality would have been somewhat diminished, mitigating the top-heavy feeling. Still, the massing was totally an afterthought and has once again ruined the compatibility and composition of the new and old. The final building on this block is a new structure which occupies the triangular lot at the intersections of Florida Ave. and 10th Street. The massing is taller than the existing two rows of townhouses it backs up to, but on a typical city block, the concept of "bookending" is contextually typical. A taller and more massive building on the ends of the block can be a nice design element to any neighborhood. This townhouse picks up on the existing scales and proportions of its historic neighbors. The fenestration of punched openings works well with the existing facades. Towards the point of the lot, bays project from the angle of the street to hint at the dynamic intersection of both streets. These bays are constructed of glass and steel storefront systems which make them more delicate and more transparent. This creates an element of interest but keeps down the perception of heavy massing. This house is a great blend of modern elements and historic elements. Dynamic modern architecture sympathetic to the historic context is always a welcome addition to the block.

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