This project creates a new high-performance living space within the shell of an 1870 wood balloon-frame house creating a high contrast between the historic exterior and the contemporary interior. Spatially and technically, a dialogue across time is made:
• The load bearing walls on the first floor are replaced by a steel frame, providing an open kitchen/living/dining space;
• The kitchen is unobtrusively contained in a thick zone, or “Kitchen Wall,” of free-standing cabinets, thereby, disappearing in plain sight;
• Six types of insulation create a high-performance building envelope;
• Radiant-heat floors and a wood-burning stove provide discrete sources of heat;
• Trimmings from the large silver maple trees on the house’s small urban site are used to fuel the wood burning stove;
• Convection chimneys at the roof and the high-performing building envelop obviate the need for air conditioning;
• All of the wood elements are constructed of EuroPly, a maple veneered plywood with an exposed end grain that reveals the alternating plywood layers;
• The maple veneer of the EuroPly darkens to a deep reddish hue over time.
The kitchen wall discretely contains the culinary elements: Bosch refrigerator; Julien stainless steel sink with a Hansgrohe Axor Stark 2 faucet; Miele dishwasher; SMEG wall oven; and SMEG cook top stove. The oven and stove are designed for SMEG by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The countertop is a solid maple chopping block. The upper cabinets that contain cooking tools have sliding translucent tempered glass doors. A perforated plywood screen wall hides the pantry behind the Kitchen Wall as well as the stairs to the upper and basement levels while still letting natural light sift through. The screen wall extends up to the second floor and becomes the safety railing. The bathroom vanities are EuroPly cabinets with 3Form polycarbonate counter top and backsplash. The vessel sinks are Kohler, and the wall mounted facets are Hansgrohe.
The free-standing furniture is also constructed of planes of the EuroPly plywood that create interlocking positive and negative volumes. The layered end-grain is exposed to delineate and accentuate the formal profiles of the planes, and the joints of the plywood have an intentional lack of constructional detail due to hidden spline connections. The kitchen cabinets, screen wall, and free-standing furniture are all constructed of EuroPly. By using this same material, the fixed and free-standing plywood elements visually merge making what is mobile and immobile ambiguous.
The retrofit construction process maintained all of the existing wood balloon-frame structure and exterior enclosure of the original house, thereby, maximizing the use of its existing embodied energy. Some structural enhancements were made to match contemporary building codes. The thermal performance of the building enclosure was greatly enhanced by introducing six targeted types of building insulation. The primary wall insulation is of biodegradable high-density cellulose made from recycled paper products. Closed-cell foam was used at all of the window and door jambs to eliminate any air infiltration. Open-cell foam was used under the roof sheathing, and polyisocyanurate rigid foam was used above the roof sheathing. Rock wool insulation was used as fire-stopping at the floors of the balloon framing, and rigid insulation was used at the basement walls.
Two existing masonry chimneys were removed leaving framed apertures in the roof of the house. In the summer, these apertures now serve as controllable convection chimneys that expel the rising warm air that conversely draws in cooler fresh air at the living levels of the house. Altogether the new insulated enclosure and passive energy strategies have reduced the overall annual energy consumption by 75%.
The Kitchen Wall becomes the center of activity for the house due to its spatial and visual connection to the living and dining spaces. The small square footage of the original volume is made more efficient by doubling spatial functions. For example, the kitchen functions have been moved out of a separate room at the back of the house and into the main living/dining volume. This displacement created a new guest room on the first level of the house where the kitchen used to be. Additionally, the kitchen work zone also serves as the circulation space from the front door to the stairs and guestroom at the back of the house. And the pantry zone also houses the stair to the upper and basement levels. Even at just 1400 square feet, this house has four bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a spacious, light-filled kitchen/living/dining space for the whole family.
Peter Wiederspahn is principal of Wiederspahn Architecture, LLC, and is a professor at Northeastern University, Boston, MA. His practice includes architecture and furniture design, and has garnered numerous design excellence awards for residential, multi-family, commercial and interior projects in Boston, New York and Chicago. His practice focuses on the interrelationship of architectural design and building systems, production, and performance. Professor Wiederspahn and two colleagues at Northeastern University are the winners of the 2017 AIA Latrobe Prize for their research on “Future-Use Architecture.” He was also awarded a Graham Foundation grant for his research entitled, “Wood Frame Multi-Family Housing in Boston, 1865-1900,” and received a design research grant from the Boston Society of Architecture for “Smart Growth Planning Prototypes.”
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