Residential Towers -Getting the Backyard in the City Part 2

Updated 9/3/15

Ideas and Research
Architects begin a project in different ways. I often get my best ideas at night and will wake up and sketch them out. The generating idea for the floor plan came from the petals of a daisy and how they attach to the flower. The floor plan could also be seen as similar to a helicopter rotor mechanism. This petal scheme combined a triangle within a circle within a square within a rectangle. When you design, you think about all of the projects that been done before by other architects and how they used the basic shapes. All of their work is brought to bear in the design process.

In terms of requirements, I was committed to getting yard space (like a suburban lot) into the equation. To achieve this kind of space, I needed an open plan. Le Corbusier was one of the earliest to propose open plan designs using floor plates held up by columns. His sketch below illustrates that concept.

Le Corbusier, Dom-ino skeleton, 1914-15, from the Oeuvre complete, vol 1 1910-1929.
Le Corbusier, Dom-ino skeleton, 1914-15, from the Oeuvre complete, vol 1 1910-1929.
. The famous firm of Herzog and de-Meuron recently reinterpreted the Le Corbusier plan in their Beirut Terraces complex. That project boasted large balconies off of the glass enclosed apartments.
The Terraces by Herzog & deMeuron
The Terraces by Herzog & deMeuron
While minimalist and modern, I felt I could best this and offer actual backyard space in my design with grass, trees and plants, all assembled vertically.

Initial Sketches
These early sketches show my first ideas on how to transform the petal floor plan into a building.

early sketches
early sketches

I was thinking of securing the floor plates into slots like the trays on airline trolly carts. The ‘wine glasses’ would then slide in and be held up with the additional support of the columns.
I also knew I wanted a 3 tower scheme with a central courtyard in the middle. I modeled the two sketches above in the computer and found that the central courtyard didn’t really have a purpose as the towers functioned independently of each other. Ditching the domed courtyard space, I looked to the past to find a building that was similar to my design. I came to the Villard Houses (1881-85) by McKim, Mead & White. Located on Madison Ave between 49th and 50th Streets in New York City, this complex was to be the future home of railroad magnate Henry Villard. The Villard property consisted of 6 separate residences.

The Villard Houses
The Villard Houses

Final Design
ELEVATION VIEW2F copy

My design attempts to rework the traditional layout and circulation system of the typical apartment building by creating a system of layered hallways. In this new system you enter the lobby, take the lift to your floor and then exit into an interior hallway. Unlike most apartment complexes that have a dungeon like hallway (think Motel 6 with flickering fluorescent overhead lighting) leading to the individual apartments, my internal hall is all glass opening up to external hallways that either lead out to balconies overlooking courtyards or exit directly to the outdoor yard space. This scheme creates a more welcoming environment to return to. Just like coming home to a suburban home.

The final design consists of three towers. The left and right towers come in at 6 stories + 1 level of underground parking. Each floor-plate (10,000 sq. ft.) has 2 apartments, each with their own backyard for a total of 10 apartments per tower. There are 5 different house plans to choose from ranging from 1 bedroom to 3 bedroom plans. The central tower (8 stories) has a total of 12 apartments, however the apartments in this tower lack the internal courtyards. To make up for the lost light, I created skyroofs in some of the apartments. These protrusions from the building allow daylight into the bedroom and offer a view of the night sky from your bed. The bedroom is essentially cantilevered outside of the building envelope and a glass roof is placed over the projecting bedroom. The central tower also features a roof level garden with plots for vegetables, multiple koi ponds and full specimen trees planted within a green roof. The left and right towers have cafe/restaurant space on the ground floor as well as a porte-cochére (a covered entry area), so you get in your car at lobby level (retrieved from the underground garage) without getting wet. The central tower has retail space, a pool and gym facilities on the ground floor. In theory you would never have to leave the complex, you could go out to eat, go to the gym, and experience the suburbs all in your home in the city.

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Residential Towers -Getting the Backyard in the City

Hello again readers,

One of the biggest design challenges in the future is making cities hospitable and livable for all. The cleanliness of cities was a big concern at the turn of the twentieth century and people like Daniel Burnham (a late 19th century architect and developer extraordinaire) was key to achieving the goal of clean urban environments. Burnham transformed the city of Chicago as part of his City Beautiful campaign. City Beautiful redeveloped Chicago’s waterfront district for the Eastern Colombian Exposition, a world’s fair hosted by the city of Chicago. The fair featured the latest and greatest inventions and art from the Americas. Burham fashioned the new Chicago in the likeness of the great buildings of Europe and Greece while creating parks and cleaning up the streets. While Burnham toiled remaking Chicago for the exposition, the wealthy and newly middle class were fleeing the city for the suburbs, the rural outskirts that offered cleaner living without the wait time that comes with big urban redevelopment schemes.

For the last century the suburban home on a 1/4 acre or more was considered the ideal living arrangement. Suburbs gave people symbolic independence and freedom from the city, they were in control of their own property and in their mind could support themselves living off the land (though few chose to do this). Many feel today that the further you are from your neighbor, the richer you are or the better you are; that land has become a proxy for social and economic autonomy. The ultimate retirement status symbol is owning a vineyard or the gentleman’s estate replete with house, outbuildings and expensive yard toys (tractors/back hows). This desire for the symbols of economic independence have come with social costs; people today have far fewer ties to their neighbors and the community at large. People’s reliance on the automobile has also created generations of people who are lazy and overweight due to lack of exercise and local mobility.

While quaint and bucolic, the suburbs have proven to be grossly inefficient means of development. Suburbs depend on cheap energy to fuel trips to the store (as everything is a car trip’s distance from your house). Heating large single family homes is also very expensive. Rising fuel prices and the fact that most jobs and people’s social networks reside in urban locations (city’s are the new social networks according to Jeffery West.)
To find work one has to move to the city. High fuel prices, lower wages, and fewer job opportunities all push people to the city while slowly killing the suburb. Land is scarce in cities, so people are forced to live close to each other in high density development projects. The apartment complex or tower was the building typology that met these needs.

The typical apartment tower
Nearly every apartment building no matter what the price point share a common set of rules for their layout. All apartment buildings tend to have a fancy or large lobby area on the ground floor with a set of elevator banks at its center. You take the lift to your floor, then walk down a central hallway (which I refer to as the hallway of hell) until you reach your door to enter your apartment.
Below is a typical example designed by Robert Stern for the Battery Park neighborhood in New York City.

Floor plan of Tribeca Park by Robert Stearn taken from Robert A.M Stern Buildings  & Towns
Floor plan of Tribeca Park by Robert Stearn taken from Robert A.M Stern Buildings & Towns

The exterior of the building is also shown.
Photo of Tribeca Park project
Photo of Tribeca Park project

While functional, this setup is depressing and thoroughly unsatisfying. Having home be like a visit to a Motel 6 is soul-crushing in my mind. With the nostalgia of the suburbs in mind and the need to do better for the city dwellers of the present and future, I set about re-imagining the apartment complex for the city. My solution and process are in the next post. Stay tuned.

Part 2 Getting the Backyard in the City

Residential Project – Compact housing in an Urban Landscape

South Elevation
South Elevation

Hello again readers,

The previous post on the 300sq ft complex got me thinking to see if I could design ultra-compact housing for city dwellers. This 6 unit complex complete with its own community center attempts to address the need for affordable housing for today’s youth. The houses are single bedroom, one bath units that come to 534sq ft. Small but not tiny. While larger than the 300sq ft found in the contest housing, I felt that the extra 234 ft was needed for storage of everyday items. Additional features included with each house are a gas fireplace, custom built-ins, laundry, and even garden space within the development. The housing units can be made handicapped accessible with minor adjustment to the entry stair of the houses. The houses are arranged around several courtyards and while close together every attempt was made to ensure privacy between the house’s occupants.

The community center features a large common space with coffee bar and comfy seating. Other spaces include a conference room and upstairs game room. The community center is completely handicapped accessible with entry ramps and handicapped bathroom facilities.

Residential Design – Modular Magic

East Elevation
East Elevation

The trend in home construction is towards modular housing as it is more cost effective and more environmentally sustainable. Modules that are created in the shop and then shipped to the site create much less site waste and and can be move in ready in much less time compared to a normal stick built home. I created this modular design as an example of what can be achieved with a simple yet flexible plan. The roof system is a simple truss while each home module has 3 connection points that either plug-in or join to expand the initial footprint of the house. The base configuration offers 3 bedrooms/2.5 baths with a finished basement. For more space you have a choice of adding additional bedroom modules which come in 2 flavors: traditional or more modern. The design also offers garage/mudroom modules for up to 3 cars. There are also 3 separate sun room modules for additional living space. The main house modules can be modified as well and I created 2 schemes that show the potential for larger living/dining/kitchen spaces if the homeowner needed that extra space. The house shown in the photo above has both a garage and bedroom module added, bringing the configuration to 4 bedrooms/ 3.5 baths. Another cool standard feature is the pyramid skylight that illuminates the basement rec room. The skylight acts as a front porch light at night lighting your way to the front door. I painted my house black with orange trim to stand out but the house can be clad in your choice of materials or colors.

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The attached pdf file shows alternate configurations of the main house module.

Below is a quick movie that pans around the featured design.
Click play button to view

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Residential Project – Subterranean House

East Elevation
East Elevation

Its 2013 and I am starting off the year with a design that is a little unorthodox. It is both above and below ground yet I chose to title it the subterranean house. The house is cut into a hillside and uses the ground’s internal heat along with passive solar heating to heat the structure. The main living space and library are supplemented with fireplaces to provide additional warmth. In addition to the main house, there is a separate artist’s studio placed at the summit of the hillside that looks out over the hills. The main house is divided into 4 different levels. The main living spaces and a guest bedroom are on the ground floor with an office floor, an hilltop lobby floor, and a master bedroom floor located above ground at the very top of the house. A two car garage was also buried into the hillside providing shelter for the vehicles.

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Residential Design – Hangman House

Elevation View
Elevation View

Well 2012 is almost over and to close out the year here is another funky residence for your enjoyment. Sometimes an idea that you put to paper initially turns out to be a dud, but revisiting it some time later will often give you new incite and new ideas will emerge from the rubble. That was the case with this project. I initially sketched out a design but didn’t really see a good way of arranging the rooms. The original massing of the building also changed with the later iterations.
Photo of model with the Original Massing in purple
Photo of model with the Original Massing in purple

Original massing of house
Original massing of house
What remained was the idea of interlocking parts that insert into one another. The name Hangman house should be obvious as the third floor profile mimics the shape of a human head. I think it is kind of striking. This three bedroom 2.5 bath home places all the living spaces on the second floor with the secondary bedrooms on the ground floor; a more typical European/Japanese home arrangement. The house is clad with Cor-Ten steel panels with exterior concrete walls. One of the best features of the home is a large walkout bay window with a built in window seat. This could easily double as a secondary eating area if one desired to use it that way. As always photos of the home and plans will be at the bottom of the post.

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Residential Design – The QuaDror House

Hello again readers,

I saw this product featured in Dwell magazine and it intrigued me enough to want to use it in a design. The QuaDror Support system was created by the Industrial designer Dror Benshetrit as an alternative to the traditional lally column used to support most buildings today. His system combines 4 V-Shaped pieces to create a sawhorse-like buttress that will hold the weight of the floor above it.

Examples of QuaDror System in a Prefab House

In addition to the structural system, Dror also created a desk that mimics the same sawhorse design. Both the desk and the support system were used in my design.

QuaDror Compact Desk by Dror Benshetrit
Unlike the prefab houses that were shown in the Dwell article, my design is considerably more custom. My house has 3 bedrooms/3.5 baths with luxury amenities such as an elevator, infinity edge pool, game room, finished basement rec room, separate office, 2 fireplaces, and a carport for 2 cars. The house uses 5 QuaDror support trestles (4 in the basement and 1 on the ground floor). I tried to integrate them as much as possible into the living spaces as you can see from the photos in the gallery below. The study is supported completely by one trestle leaving the space underneath open for a carport. The movie I created of the house will give you a good view of the 2 most evident trestles.

View of QuaDror House from the Street

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Home Movie

Residential Design – English Country Estate

ELEVATION VIEW copy

It has been awhile since I posted a new design so without further adieu here it is. This castle like structure is a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath home with every feature under the sun. I took my inspiration from the work of H.H. Richardson’s libraries using his Crane Library specifically to guide the massing of the house.

Crane Library – H.H. Richardson

I also researched the common features in old English homes and attempted to incorporate as many of those details as well. Such features as a Great Hall and a Folly, a Greek building facade not unlike a set piece that became popular in the mid 1700s with a resurgence of interest in all things Greek. These Follies were placed on the grounds of the estate and served as conversation pieces and locations for events and parties.
Example of a Folly
With parties in mind, this house offers a large living room, billiards room, massive dining hall with its own minstrels’ gallery overlooking the dining room, wine cellar, library and extensive grounds all to entertain the perspective guest. Below are plans and photos of the property.

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Residential Project – From the Files

North Elevation

Hello readers,
It has been a while since I last posted, but don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about you. This design is a smaller version of my Turret House featured on my old blog that I never got around to publishing until now. It is a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath brick house with a 2 car garage and fenced in yard. The house is designed to please the music lover in the family with a special piano alcove in the living room for all of those recitals that you either dreaded or loved. In addition to the piano alcove there is a rear patio with pergola off the living room for enjoying those hot summer days and a covered garden porch for tending plants in the fall.

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Residential Design – The Artist’s Home & Gallery

Hello again readers,

This week a house created using circles. Throughout history there have only been a handful of circle based designs that achieved notoriety. The pithy of circle homes comes from the fact that the shape is difficult to construct and costly to build. The most famous circle building in Architectural history being the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. I designed this circle house for a successful artist who wanted a home and a place to exhibit his work. Along with the gallery space, the main house has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths with a 2 car garage. My design joins the 2 circles with an octagonal foyer so that the footprint resembles a pair of glasses.

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