CONCRETE TOWNHOUSE Manhattan’s Alphabet City is a tightly woven urban fabric spanning two centuries. The 60s and 70s saw a fast decay of the neighborhood with many buildings destroyed leaving vacant lots often of charred cars and rubble. In the late 1980s the neighborhood turned into a more gentle mix of middle class, student & low income population. The newly established communities drove an urban renaissance of sort with many communal gardens filling voids, shops and restaurants bringing life back to its streets. Alphabet City was then the epicenter of a vibrant and radical artistic community and we wanted our design inspiration to draw on this past identity. We looked at works by several artists that dealt with notions of memory. The work of Rachel Whiteread was enormously influential as she specifically questions notions voids, absence and familiarity of objects, buildings and building parts. Her sculptures and installation are invitations to reflect upon how we perceive the unfamiliar and the ever changing and obsolescence of things surrounding us, in which she reveals great poetry. Our intent was to create a building that offered a strong sense of mass and unity for which cast in place concrete was the material of choice. The window openings on the street facade further stress this perception but also introduce a changing rhythm which in turn blurs one’s understanding of the building’s program and floor distribution. The building is experienced as a monolithical object with facade materials limited to concrete and window openings framed with solid bronze plates. Because this is a two family home, we had the opportunity to compose the façade using a variety of window openings, different in size and proportions thus blurring the lines of its occupancy and because of the scale variation with neighboring buildings, invite passer byes to consider the evolution of this neighborhood but also of architecture itself within the span of a century. An important criteria when designing this project was to fully integrate the current urban renewal of this neighborhood and provide a positive outlook on contemporary architecture. In other words allow the introduction of a surprise in the urban fabric, which is also what New York can be about. Light is a precious commodity in Manhattan and the design provides generous South facing windows and wall to wall North facing openings. As a wish to express nothing but the building structure, most interior spaces are cast in place concrete with furniture reduced to its simplest form so that the material & spatial experiences become the focal point.
Our work rests on the mediation between engineering & architectural culture. It is our belief that successful designs can only materialize by fully synthesizing building technology and architectural sensitivity. Our approach to space is determined by a rigorous understanding of existing relationships between technique and culture, free of stylistic limitations, open to context. Our designs cover a wide spectrum or architectural services from interiors to master planning for clients in both the public and private sectors. Operating as one firm our portfolio includes residential, corporate, hospitality, civic, transportation, and mixed-use projects. Our reputation is built on our ability to translate a client’s physical needs, aspiration and budget constraints into memorable designs and spaces. We strive to bring innovation and construction techniques together as well as branding, marketing and post-occupancy issues, as we believe that long lasting experience is measure of excellency.
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