Tag Archives: transformation

Three Cusps Chalet

Three Cusps Chalet in Sé de Braga, Portugal, by Tiago do Vale Architects, 2013

The following text and images are courtesy Tiago do Vale Architects.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects


In the second half of the 19th century Portugal saw the return of a large number of emigrants from Brazil. While returning to their northern roots, specially in the Douro and Minho regions, they brought with them sizable fortunes made in trade and industry, born of the economic boom and cultural melting pot of the 19th century Brazil. With them came a culture and cosmopolitanism that was quite unheard of in the Portugal of the eighteen-hundreds.

That combination of Brazilian capital and taste sprinkled the cities of northern Portugal with examples of rich, quality architecture, that was singular in its urban context and frequently informed by the best that was being done in both Europe and Brazil.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects


The "Three Cusps Chalet" is a clear example of the Brazilian influence over Portuguese architecture during the 19th century, though it's also a singular case in this particular context.

Right as the Dom Frei Caetano Brandão Street was opened, a small palace was being built in the corner with the Cathedral's square and thanks to large amounts of Brazilian money. It boasted high-ceilings, rich frescos, complex stonework, stucco reliefs and exotic timber carpentry. In deference to such noble spaces, the kitchen, laundry, larders and personnel quarters, which were usually hidden away in basements and attics, were now placed within one contiguous building, of spartan, common construction.

Built according to the devised model of an alpine chalet, so popular in 19th century Brazil (with narrow proportions, tall windows, pitched roofs and decorated eaves), the "Three Cusps Chalet" was that one building. Due to the confluence of such particular circumstances it's quite likely the only example of a common, spartan, 19th century building of Brazilian ancestry in Portugal.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

Sitting at the heart of both the Roman and medieval walls of Braga, a stone's throw away from Braga's Cathedral (one of the most historically significant of the Iberian Peninsula) this is a particularly sunny building with two fronts, one facing the street at West and another one, facing a delightful, qualified block interior plaza at East, enjoying natural light all day long.

At the time of our survey, its plan is organized by the staircase (brightened by a skylight), placed at the center of the house and defining two spaces of equal size, East and West,  on each of the floors. The nature of each floor changes from public to private as we climb from the store at the street level to a living room (West) and kitchen (East) at the first floor,  with the sleeping quarters on top. Materials-wise, all of the stonework and the peripheral supportive walls are built with local yellow granite, while the floors and roof are executed with wooden beams with hardwood flooring.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects


Confronted by both its degrading state and degree of adulteration, and by the interest of its story and typology, the design team took as their mission the recovery the building's identity, which had been lost in 120 years of small unqualified interventions. The intention was to clarify the building's spaces and functions while simultaneously making it fit for today's way of living.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

The program asked for the cohabitation of a work studio and a home program. Given the reduced area of the building, the original strategy of hierarchizing spaces by floor was followed. The degree of privacy grows as one climbs the staircase. The stairs also get narrower with each flight of steps, informing the changing nature of the spaces it connects.

A willingness to ensure the utmost transparency throughout the building, allowing light to cross it from front to front and from top to bottom, defined all of the organizational and partitioning strategies resulting in a solution related to a vertical loft.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

The design team took advantage of a 1,5 m height difference between the street and the block's interior plaza to place the working area on the ground level, turing it westward and relating it to the street. Meanwhile, the domestic program relates with the interior plaza and the morning light via a platform that solves the transition between kitchen and exterior. This allows for both spaces to immediately assert quite different personalities and light, even though they are separated by just two flights of stairs.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

The staircase geometry, previously closed in 3 of its sides, efficiently filters the visual relations between both programs while still allowing for natural light to seep down from the upper levels and illuminate the working studio.

The second floor was kept for the social program of the house. Refusing the natural tendency for compartmentalizing, the staircase was allowed to define the perimeters of the kitchen and living room, creating an open floor with natural light all day long. Light enters from the kitchen in the morning, from the staircase's skylight and from the living room in the afternoon.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

Climbing the last and narrow flights of stairs we reach the sleeping quarters where the protagonist is the roof, whose structure was kept apparent, though painted white. On the other side of the staircase, which is the organizing element on every floor, there's a clothing room, backed by a bathroom.

If the visual theme of the house is the white color, methodically repeated on walls, ceilings, carpentry and marble, the clothing room is the surprise at the top of the path towards the private areas of the house. Both the floor and roof structure appear in their natural colors surrounded by closet doors constructed in the same material. It reads as a small wooden box, a counterpoint to the home's white box and being itself counterpointed by the marble box of the bathroom.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects


Fitting with the strategy of maximizing light and the explicitness of the spaces, the material and finish choices used in this project were intentionally limited. White color was used for the walls, ceilings and carpentry due to its spacial qualities and lightness. Wood in its natural color is used for the hardwood floors and clothing room due to its warmth and comfort. Portuguese white Estremoz marble, which covers the ground floor, countertops and on the bathrooms and laundry walls and floors, was chosen for its texture, reflectivity and color.

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

ll of the original wood window frames of the main façade were recovered, the roof was remade with the original Marseille tiles over a pine structure and the decorated eave restored to its original glory. The hardwood floors were remade with southern yellow pine over the original structure and all the surfaces that required waterproofing covered with Portuguese Estremoz marble. Ground floor window frames were remade in iron, as per the original, but redesigned in order to maximize natural illumination (as on the east façade).

Photo by João Morgado, courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

Floor plans courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

Building sections courtesy of Tiago do Vale Architects

Leaf Facade

Leaf Facade in London, England, by Squire and Partners, 2013

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Architectural inspiration can be found just about anywhere nowadays—forms and structures can echo those of animals; buildings can become landforms through the manipulation of landscape; and a building's function can dictate its expression, among an almost infinite number of tactics. In many cases inspiration comes from something nearby, such as an area landmark or an important view. In the case of Squire and Partners' design of a private house in Mayfair, London, inspiration came in the form of a house one block away.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Drawing courtesy of Squire and Partners

The five story residence—consisting of four bedrooms, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a home cinema, two roof terraces and an area of green roof—sits in a conservation area, so the architects converted an old pub (The Red Lion) and retained an 18th-century brick wall, behind which the house rises. Cladding of the house was inspired by a building on Curzon Street that faces the preserved brick facade. Seen below, the building on Curzon street stands out because it is the only one on the street covered with ivy (Virginia Creeper, actually), as well as standing out for its location at the end of the short perpendicular street visually connecting the two otherwise unrelated buildings.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

As the process documentation below indicates, the architects abstracted the leaves that make up the facade on Curzon Street and found ways to create a repeating element that has some depth, texture and shadow. The final result does not have the seasonal variation of the (literally) green facade one block away, but the scale and pattern have quite a nice effect, both from a distance and up close.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Per Squire and Partners: "The contemporary interpretation of leaves is crafted as a metallic shingle, which cover a three story elevation and rooftop pavilion. The PPC [polyester powder coating, I presume] coated folded aluminium leaves – 4,080 in total - subtly vary in tones of bronze to mimic organic growth patterns. The concept was designed over a three year period of research and development working closely with Swiss manufacturer Tuchschmid."

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

The color variation in the "leaves" is particularly noticeable up close, though not really from a distance. The yellow-to-brown range gives the facade an autumnal hue that also recalls bricks, but with a diagonal orientation rather than a horizontal one. The best aspect of the repeated detail is the folds, which enable the leaves to overlap but also to cast shadows and face in two directions. This feature ensures that the leaves will reflect the light in various ways throughout the day, tracking time in their own way, just as the facade with Virginia Creeper tracks time (the seasons) in its own way.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners


The Public Theater

The Public Theater in New York City by Ennead Architects, 2012.

Sometimes the smallest and most discrete of projects can have the greatest impact. Such is my take upon experiencing the new lobby for The Public Theater at Astor Place, and hearing the history of the building and project from Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership). The Public occupies the former Astor Library, which actually consists of three buildings constructed over the course of 30 years in the middle of the 19th century. The Byzantine landmark nevertheless appears as one entity, with bilateral symmetry about its taller middle section. Over the years the building changed from a library to a boarding house and then to a theater, when Joseph Papp persuaded the city to save the building from demolition in the 1960s. Small physical changes had large effects, especially the relegation of the library's exterior steps to the interior, a situation that made the lobby of The Public's five theaters less than ideal.

Easily the most important design decision in the transformation of the lobby and entry by Ennead Architects is the relocation of the steps from inside the building back to the sidewalk. This decision certainly complicated the process, as it brought the city's Department of Transportation into the picture, but the benefits to both The Public and the city outweigh any potential headaches or delays. First, ADA ramps were provided, a much better arrival than the handicap lift formerly by the front door. Second, the shallow and generous three-sided steps are a nice public amenity, accomplished by bumping out the curb in front of the steps. Third, the addition of a canopy over the stairs helps to give the institution a strong identity on Lafayette. Fourth is the fact that the exterior steps free up space in the lobby, something that gave the Ennead team, led by project designer Stephen Chu, design counsel James Polshek and management partner Duncan Hazard a bit more freedom in their lobby design.

Upon walking inside, the first impression is the fairly generous size of the space (not huge, but bigger than before). Yet the second impression is the most important: the space flows from the lobby in all directions—through the arched openings on the left and right, through the larger rectangular openings in the back wall, and up to the new mezzanine inserted above the ticket booth opposite the entry. Ennead's reworking of the circulation, in particular the fire stairs bordering the lobby, enabled them to provide access to the five theaters and Joe's Pub (formerly entered via an alley on the north side of the building) through the various openings of the lobby. Red and black text (done with Pentagram) is seemingly pressed into the white plaster, giving clear orientation from this central space.

Given the opening up of the lobby and the flow of space through the openings, it's not surprising that very little of the design is object-based; even the lighting is hidden above the beams where it highlights the coffers as it illuminates the space. The only objects inserted into the space are an elliptical bar, a chandelier above it, and the aforementioned mezzanine. The latter attracts attention through the red-glass guardrail, yet it fits with the general scheme of white, red, and black. The bar and light fixture, combined with the ticket booth behind as well as the openings on both sides, reinforce the symmetry of the building and the lobby. Most striking and dynamic is the Shakespeare Machine, the large light sculpture designed by Ben Rubin. Even as it anchors the center of the lobby with the bar, its swirling form and ever-changing readouts capture the motion of people in the space as they venture to and from shows. Yet the lobby and mezzanine are also places for lingering, something that would have been furthest from people's minds in its previous incarnation.

Brooklyn Army Terminal

Brooklyn Army Terminal in Brooklyn, New York by Cass Gilbert, 1919.

This week's dose is a departure from the usual focus on contemporary architecture, instead featuring an early 20th-century building that I visited as part of the Open House New York (OHNY) weekend. What's now known as the Brooklyn Army Terminal was designed by Cass Gilbert as army warehouses during World War I. The two long buildings overlooking New York Harbor were completed six years after Gilbert's Woolworth Building, but the concrete buildings west of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, are a suitably sharp departure from the ornamentation of the famous tower overlooking City Hall Park.

Reaching the buildings is usually not an easy feat, but thankfully OHNY had arranged for ferries from Pier 11 near Wall Street. The 22-minute trip was a great lead-in to seeing the buildings, partly for the view of Building A from the water (photo at top-left) but also for glimpses of the borough's changing shoreline, from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the various parts of Red Hook: the shipping container terminal, the massive cruise ship docked nearby, and the unmistakable IKEA store further north. Likewise the Brooklyn Army Terminal has transformed itself into "the premiere location for tenants who are in the business of innovation."

The Terminal's Building A and Building B add up to a whopping 5 million square feet of usable space (construction time was an even more whopping year-and-a-half), but the OHNY visit was all about Building B. While they are both the same length (just shy of 1,000 feet, or 300 meters), Building B benefits from an atrium that runs down the middle from almost end to end. At the level of the loading dock are two railroad tracks separated by a walkway in the middle. Immediately beneath the roof's truss-work are tracks for a rolling crane positioned about halfway down the length of the space, above a concrete bridge that links both sides of the building at the third floor.

But it is the angled concrete balconies—upper-level loading docks, really—that steal the show. In form and arrangement they appear to be Gilbert's only flourish in the whole building, but they are wholly functional parts of the building, as much as the railroad below and crane above. Their angled arrangement allowed cargo from train cars below to be lifted to the various spaces above without interference; a stacked or checkerboard or some other arrangement would have made it difficult to lower cargo without conflicts above. Through the balconies Gilbert gave the immense space a fine texture that also makes its a very idiosyncratic building and the highlight of OHNY this year.

Luxbau Office Conversion

Luxbau Office Conversion in Hainfeld, Austria by synn architekten, 2011.

Previously the Luxbau construction company's offices were housed in two buildings in the center of Hainfeld, a "Wilhelminian Style Villa" and a 1930s building anchoring the corner. Faced with a situation where the employees were separated from one another, the client and synn architekten opted to build a bridge between the two structures instead of replacing the existing with a new building.  The solution -- based on social and sustainability factors over economic reasons, according to the architects -- is a striking glass and concrete addition that expresses its role as connector.

The new entrance in the glass link is positioned closer to the 1930s building than the villa. From here, one can ascend or descend via steps to the former, while access to the latter is via a ramp. The undersides of both the stair and ramp are open, so, in concert with the clear glass facing the street, the different angles of vertical ascent is described to the passersby. The full-height clear glass is interspersed with panels of translucent glazing that coincides with openings in the concrete wall that makes up the link's other long wall.

The extended building signs the company´s philosophy for solidarity with construction and the attention to details, material and conceptual outstanding solutions.
-synn architekten

This concrete wall faces a courtyard between the two existing buildings. (Note that in the image at left, the dormers above the link are actually across the street, not the villa, a bit of an optical illusion.) This tranquil outdoor space is marked by wooden paths and a pond with lilies and tall grasses. Moving from the entrance to the villa, this landscape is glimpsed through the small windows, a more effective enticement than another wall of glass would have produced.

Both of the existing buildings were adapted for the construction company's offices and improved to make them more energy efficient. The architects intended the new link and the building conversions to act as an advertisement for Luxbau, much like architects' studios are carefully considered to impress clients. Yet it's the relatively little used (in terms of time spent) link that steals the show. It illustrates how the smallest intervention (the even smaller tree planter and seating in the roadway is a nice touch) can't make the biggest impact.

The Woven Nest

The Woven Nest in London, England by atmos studio, 2010.

The following text and images for this residence in Stoke Newington are courtesy atmos studio.

This home for an actress and musician carefully slots between buildings and sightlines, and wraps built-in furniture into every available surface. The massing was generated from the view-lines along the High Street below, tucked carefully out of sight to achieve planning permission for a new story with front outdoor space hidden within the row of listed buildings. The roof-form deploys a double-pitched butterfly roof, angling upwards from low flank walls to greet the arriving visitor with taller walls at the central stairwell. A crystalline valley skylight hangs above, flooding the void with light. Staggered floor sections carefully borrow space from below. The V-shape in section repeats in plan to ease a tidy outdoor terrace between new and old façades, the doors from hall and bedroom folding neatly together.

The project’s palette mirrors the client’s interest in Japanese economy, restraint and invention, and provides a sense of surprising spaciousness within tight confines. Spaces from adjacent rooms are borrowed and traded, with each room offering a panoply of different views and directions. Mirrors double and quadruple the extent of views and entice optical exploration, while maximum continuity between the surfaces of the built-in furniture provides a sense of further elongation, and interest. The house assembles around the central open stair, its timber strands growing upwards towards the light and unleashing delicate tendrils to frame each step. To the right, spaces sneak into the stair – as bathroom storage below or the underside of the desk above – while to the right the open treads fan and splay into a generous array of surfaces for the living room.

Both plan and Planning constraints generated a complex series of intertwining spaces, enlivened by light and interconnectivity.

Upstairs, the stair-tree verticals curl into architraves and continue into rooms either side of the eyelid to the sky above. Their lines flow to form a desk and shelving unit in the study, wrapping around to welcome the unfolding sheaves of floor plank that conceal a bed within the floor. The low table/cupboard nestled at the window flows out to form a long courtyard storage bench, which slips back inside as a bathroom counter, carved with a sunken bath. This same surface plunges through the bather’s view-slot into the bedroom, a faceted plane (the laundry-lid) folding up to form the final blackout for this bedroom/bathroom opening. It continues as storage into the plinth of the welcoming bed beyond, and onwards as bedside counter before folding back into the wall and the rhythms of the stair beyond.

The house is thus unified by a single curl of complex in-built furniture, bridging inside and out, closed and open, his and hers and anyone else’s in its careful compaction of storage and use and its careful alignment of the body within spaces and the eye towards sky. The rear window angles carefully back above its sloping brick parapet, offering great starry views from the pillow. Its fixed glazing folds at the stairwell to form an opening frame, a complex rhomboid perfectly slotted into the available space. The courtyard opposite protects privacy yet offers generous views of sky and city (from bath or bench, table or toilet), and tantalizing views into the intricacy of this urban jewel.

Cognito Films

Cognito Films in Culver City, California by Randall Stout Architects, 2001.

Recently receiving an honor award from Wood Design & Building Magazine, the office for Cognito Films in Culver City (home to many of Eric Owen Moss's architectural adventures) is definitely unconventional in its use of wood, using structural sizes to demarcate space in an imaginative arrangement. The jury commented that the "arrangement and connections are so simple that one can imagine the stacked timbers re-use at some time in the future." This thinking goes hand-in-hand with the company, a production company for television commercials, who strive for freshness and surprise.

Randall Stout Architects' design responds to the bowstring trusses of the roughly 11,000 s.f. warehouse space they retrofitted into office space. While the wood members of the trusses are smaller with space between, the main intervention competes through its mass, 12x12 inch pieces stacked together. These wood walls contain a conference room, media room, A/V editing room, and staff workroom (also supporting a mezzanine lounge for staff) though never completely as the skewed walls create gaps both in plan and section. The plan illustrates the simplicity of the main design element, basically an island within the warehouse space.

Beyond the contemporary design, the architects successfully incorporated sustainability by using timbers from a local yard that were cut from reforested, new growth trees. According to the architects, "Timber lengths range typically from 14 to 33 feet [and] are held together using simple combinations of steel angles saddles and splice plates with 3/4-inch diameter bolts. Stacked timbers were drilled through on 7 foot centers to receive 3 inch diameter steel pipe and also glued along their entire lengths. No finish was applied so as to leave the wood grain fully open to sight and touch." While it may not be immediately apparent, the details of the construction are just as important as the ideas behind the design.

Renovating warehouses is a popular means to create office space in and around California. Many ways of relating to the existing structure exist, including the extremes of ignoring it or celebrating it. In this case, the architects come close to celebrating the existing, though their reinterpretation of the use of wood moves the design away from mere mimicry. A consistent material palette from roof structure down to the new walls helps to create a cohesive space that is otherwise lacking in completeness: the walls look like they could still be under construction. But it's a maneuver that in the end pays off.

Austin Theater

Austin Theater in Austin, Texas by Miró Rivera Architects, 2000.

When Miró Rivera Architects approached the renovation of the Old Austin Theater (1939) from an adult theater into office space for a software company, rather than obliterate any sign of the site's previous incarnation they chose to keep one unmistakable element, the marquee. Projecting like an alien appendage, the blank marquee, with lights, gives the design a touch of whimsy that would otherwise be missing.

According to the architect's web page, the other goal in the design, besides keeping a defining characteristic of the previous use, was to, "engage the building in its prominent urban condition through the creation of a strong, copper-clad corner." The copper panels are sized to the existing marquee, but any overt relationship to the existing building stops there, the exterior walls creating a wholly new character for the building. The two horizontal window openings, and eroded wall with steel frame above the entry, help to break up the monolithic exterior.

Surprisingly the interior appears much more light-filled than the minimal openings on the elevations would suggest. The ability to easily create multi-story spaces within the existing shell may help in this case.

Beyond the copper facade, the most appealing aspect of the project is the disparity of old and new uses, adult theater and office space, respectively. In terms of downtown developments, renovation of buildings as uses change helps to create continuity over time, allowing people to see change while also getting a glimpse of the past, something that razing and designing anew can't offer.

[Google Earth link]

Oslo School of Architecture

Oslo School of Architecture in Oslo, Norway by Jarmund/Vigsnæs AS, .

Located near the Akerselva River in the eastern part of Oslo, Norway, the Oslo School of Architecture conducted an open design competition in 1998 for the renovation and expansion of an existing, 1938 building won by local architect Jarmund/Vigsnæs AS. Given the existing building's conservation status on its exterior, the architects focused their attention on the interior, a sunken courtyard and a new block of classrooms competing the courtyard.

To signal the entry and bring daylight to the first floor, an access court was created by removing part of the first floor. Coupled with the courtyard beyond the opening ties the School to the river while creating a communal outdoor room for social interaction and teaching. A cafe, auditorium, exhibition space, a library, design studios and workshops occupy the ground floor with offices and other administrative uses on the floor above.

Inside the character of the building is a mixture of rough, industrial surfaces (exposed, chalk-blasted concrete structure) and contrasting materials (polished concrete, linoleum flooring, ash in the auditorium and glass partitions predominant). The new exterior walls are comprised of different color insulated glass systems, giving varying characteristics to each space through incoming light.

The appeal of JVA's design for the Oslo School of Architecture lies in how the well-scaled spaces interact with the materiality of the palette the architects use. Details like the suspended mesh ceiling below the fluorescent lighting in the library (in lieu of the standard acoustical tile ceiling with lay-in light fixtures) and the use of the same in the stairwells add to this appeal. More so the exterior spaces extend this thinking, creating equally well-proportioned outdoor spaces for circulation, learning and enjoyment.

[Google Earth link]

Chelsea Court Apartments

Chelsea Court Apartments in New York, NY by Louise Braverman Architect, 2003.

The following images and text are courtesy Louise Braverman for her design of the Chelsea Court Apartments in New York City.

In the early 1990's Chelsea Court, a SRO on the brink of collapse, was used as a crack den. Over time, the neighborhood grew weary of the street crime which goes hand in hand with a neglected building. Frustrated with the city's lack of response to the problem, Block Association members finally called former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on his weekly radio show. That call turned the tide and the city took possession of the building, mandating that the property be developed into affordable housing for New York City's disadvantaged residents. The 17th Street Block Association invited Palladia (then Project Return Foundation) to develop the building into supportive permanent housing for previously homeless and low-income tenants.

The design of Chelsea Court, an affordable housing project specifically planned for 18 previously homeless and low-income New York City tenants, is a tribute to the belief that aesthetic environments enhance the lives of all people, rich or poor. Community facilities including a lounge, conference room, laundry and offices complement the layout of studio apartments (click for drawings). Today after a total gut renovation where every square inch has been designed with an economy of means, Chelsea Court is an environment where tenants can live comfortably and seamlessly become part of their new neighborhood.

The lives of the inhabitants are open to the street, the internal garden and to the community around them. The "blue ribbon" of translucent glass on the streetfront travels inside the skewed public corridor in the form of metallic blue display niches, past a cubic metallic blue and green security desk and up the chromatically sequenced glazed concrete masonry blocks of the stairwells. Indoors and outdoors merge; the roof garden is part of the apartments and the street is part of the office. An art wall displaying a 2'x 25' photomural of an outdoor image of Coney Island runs through the interior public corridor.

In 2003 Louise Braverman, Architect received an AIA New York State Design Award for the design of Chelsea Court. It is also the only low-income housing project from the New York metropolitan area to be included among the 18 projects selected to be in the Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington DC. The show will run from February 28 to August 8, 2004.

[Google Earth link]