Unhistoric Townhouse

Unhistoric Townhouse, System Architects

A city’s life is in its streets. It’s where we move, connect, watch and listen, love and learn. While our homes are a refuge from the chaos of the streets, we still want to be part of the pulsing public life. The project is a five-story townhouse, built for a family. But the building is only one room deep, and the widest dimension of its footprint is on the street. We embraced the site’s intimate involvement with the street as a central theme of the project: to create a façade that engages the rhythms of the neighborhood and 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 our façade, which gives passersby a glimpse of the interior domesticity, dissolving the wall between the home and street, while at the same time offering a vibrant new element to the neighborhood. The radical twists and folds are all accomplished with standard-sized bricks, materials characteristic of the historic neighborhood. To accomplish this, we devised a groundbreaking, cost-effective computational technique, creating a life-sized template for traditional skills. The steel frame that holds the new facade in place was so precisely prefabricated that it was delivered by crane and installed in just one day. The result is a remarkable new type of building, one deeply rooted in the street life of the historic neighborhood, which also signals that a new era has arrived.