Wednesday, August 02, 2017

How To Achieve Sustainable Postmodern Architecture Through Renovation And Repurposing

Normally, I gravitate more toward complex large-scale projects like a moth to a flame. I balance this attraction by consciously keeping an eye on the renovation market for innovative ideas because some of the strongest arguments in favour of sustainable design are best achieved through the renovation and repurposing of existing structures and materials. NADAAA's recently completed Rock Creek House in Washington D.C., is an interesting case study of how far this paradigm can be pushed. With this study it's hoped ideas and methods will surface that will be of benefit to the community of sustainable designers.

I was initially introduced to this modern-looking building the same way many others discover new buildings these days: Through my social media feed. (I apologize I no longer remember which platform but I know way more about the building now anyways.) The project initially stuck out to me because it looked like such a good example of postmodern architecture. The asymmetrical placement of the windows is well balanced. There is great detailing around the windows. And the texture of the exterior brick was very unique; almost ancient, but also deep. However, I was surprised to learn the original house was built in the 1920s, and then bowled over when I learned how radical the renovation had been (as the below image attests).

The use of brick many in residential and commercial projects is lamentable. Bricks themselves have several desirable characteristics such as their cost effectiveness and thermal properties. However, too often the material seems to be used without any meaning attached to its use. It can lead to the brick looking out-of-place in these cases. Leaving aside that one design issue for the moment, Rock Creek House leveraged some of its best qualities by reusing the original house's exterior brick, but drastically reworking its configuration. I think this was a really good choice for the project. The diverse range of tones from a grey-brown pallet gives the exterior a great texture. Care has been paid to the window casing details, which in all images of the building are about as slim and clean as construction allows. 

Moving to the interior. it's drastically different than the 1920s original as well. The designers have gone in a much more conceptual direction. The main stairs' railing is the best example of how radical some of the interior features are. Each will fall where they may as to if they like it or not. I don't mind the boldness except for where it becomes inconvenient and nonfunctional and for the most part the features seem designed with functionally in mind. I find echoes of Japanese design in some of the plain surfaces throughout the house. Great interior lighting from the big windows. On the sustainability front, the design team did an excellent job elevating the use of sustainability sourced plywood in the interior, with again the feature stairs highlighting its use in a parametrically-derived form. 

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