Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood

One of the most exciting neighborhoods architecturally right now in DC is the North Shaw/ U Street area. During the last few years this pocket of mixed industrial/residential buildings has transformed from a dead crumbling zone to a hot bed of architectural innovation. One of the pioneering architecture firms in this neighborhood, DivisionOne Architecture has launched another innovative and modern project that is soon to be complete. The Condo building is located at the corner of Florida Ave and 11th Street NW. Over a dozen new projects have been built in the area, some great while others seriously lack in good design. The Lacey, is an exception on both accounts. It is a fantastic example of innovative modern architecture, and it stands out from all of the other projects on the blocks nearby. At first sight, the structure is unique from everything else in the neighborhood. I think this is appropriate. The surrounding context has no real typical typology. There are some very small nondescript Victorian townhouses, some post-industrial warehouses mixed in with larger public buildings of no particular style. The heights are all varied, creating a unique rhythm to each block. The scale of this building is on the larger side, but it fits with the scale of the other large buildings. It is much smaller than the ten story modern condo developments just down Florida Avenue. The massing consists of a continuation of the contextual deep front yards and a larger cantilevered glass box overhanging delicately above the lower level setbacks. There are a series of metal stairs leading from the street level to the first floors of the street facing units. This plays on the larger scale townhouse entrances in the area. The floating glass box above creates interest to its elevation by playing with a "Modrian-esque" pattern of glass that varies from translucent to opaque. Balconies inset have a shadowline-punched effect to add a nice depth the the elevation. The most innovative piece of the design is circulation from the street to each unit. It avoids completely the traditional interior corridor system by utilizing a central exterior spine that bisects the main massing. This allows for more natural light to enter into the inner sides of each unit. The spine protrudes out to the side and creates a dynamic detail to the street front of the building. The vertical circulation to each level of the external spine is clad in a system of metal louvers which cast playful shadows alongside more solid ends of the primary massing. A matrix of horizontal and vertical gestures in the side concrete panels are almost violently sliced by the steel framework of the courtyard circulation. The rear of the building is as equally designed as the rest of the building. The glass box is fractured by a more minor vertical steel balcony element and a very strong horizontal concrete frame. Overall, this building adds a strong modern and technologically innovative design to the neighborhood. It stands out on it's own. The large variegation of the other buildings on the block make that appropriate. It is a building that says, "I am modern, I am innovative, and by using these elements I create amazing urban spaces." It is always exciting to come across such a dynamic piece of modern architecture in our city. It gives me hope that more and more people will be exposed to how great modern architecture can invigorate their lives and just keep wanting more of it.

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