A city’s life is in its streets. It’s where we move, connect, buy and sell, watch and listen, love and learn. And while our homes are a refuge from the noise and chaos of the streets, we still want to be part of the life that pulses through them. The Unhistoric Townhouse in Tribeca is a five-story townhouse, built for a family of four. But the building is only one room deep, and the widest dimension of its footprint faces onto the street. The structural masonry facade merges digital technology with local craft to create a new kind of urban single-family residence.
2nd Award- Global Future Design Awards 2020
Firm | System Architects
Architect/Designer | Jeremy Edmiston
Category | Residential Built
Team | Rob Baker, Jamie Edindjiklian, Alanna Lauter, Kaitlin Faherty, Christian Camacho, Christina Bien-Aime, Matthew Addeo, Alvaro Almada, and others
Country | United States
Photographer/Copyright | ©System Architects; Giles Ashford; Field Condition
For the renovation and conversion of the former commercial building, we embraced the site’s intimate involvement with the street as a central theme of the project: to create a façade that engages with the rhythms of the neighborhood but also enfolds the family within, protecting them from the street while bringing in its energy and light. The complex geometry of the interior is mirrored in the twists and folds of the façade, which gives passersby a glimpse of what the family enjoys inside, breaking down the wall between the home and the street, while at the same time offering a vibrant new element to the neighborhood. But the radical twists and folds are all accomplished with standard-sized, kiln-fired bricks, materials characteristic of the historic neighborhood of Tribeca.
To accomplish this, we devised a groundbreaking, cost-effective digital design technique, creating a life-sized foam template which bricklayers could interact with using traditional techniques. The rigid foam became a permanent element within the brick facade, serving as the necessary insulating element for the exterior wall construction. The steel that holds the new facade in place was so precisely prefabricated that it was delivered by crane and installed in just one day. The bold design was approved by the local Landmarks Preservation Commission in a rare unanimous vote.
Each floor of the townhouse is designed to maximize the 80 square meter site footprint, orienting family life towards the exterior. Neighboring buildings abut three sides of the townhouse. The façade twists to bring light from the east and west into the north-facing townhouse and to give the family greater privacy from the commercial building across the street. The complex geometry of the façade is mirrored inside, in the domestic space, where an interior wall of twisted brick anchors the living spaces, its curves providing seating, shelving, and even a fireplace. The façade becomes part of the daily life of the interior, as the brick window sills create small opportunities for activity and décor. The perforated balcony screens bring dappled sunlight inside, as the balconies extend the private interior onto the street.
From concept through construction, the confluence of history, materiality, geometry, client domesticity, and technology in the Unhistoric Townhouse is a remarkable new type of residence, one rooted in the neighborhood’s historic context, which signals that a new era has arrived.