“In the past three regional plans, design work was crucial to imagining the future of the region and to making that future legible through innovative representations,” said Lewis, associate dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, in a prepared statement. “From Hugh Ferriss’s atmospheric renderings to Rai Okamoto’s access diagrams, RPA’s plans have provided unique opportunities for advancing design innovation in concert with visionary transformation of the region. The challenge to the four teams is to build upon that history and envision the future structured around a more expansive notion of 'corridor,' including transportation, ecology, access, and equity.”
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In 2004, Dan Wood and Amale Andraos bought a floor-through one-bedroom apartment in a recently completed building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The couple are partners in work as well as life. They are the founders of Work Architecture Company (WORKac), an award-winning New York firm whose credits include a master plan for the New Holland Island Cultural Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wieden+Kennedy’s New York offices, the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, and the Edible Schoolyard at P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Andraos is also dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.
At first the apartment suited them perfectly; for one thing, it was a short walk to their office on Rivington Street. And in 2010, when their daughter Ayah was born, they were able to make room for baby. But in 2012, when Wood and Andraos found out that a second child was on the way, they knew they would have to move, especially since the apartment had only one bathroom. Happily fate intervened: Just after their son Kamil was born, the duplex apartment on the floor above became available.
The architects bought the unit on the spot and immediately set to work conjuring ways to connect the apartments. The options felt overwhelming: Where would they put the front door? Where should they install the connecting staircase? The questions piled up. “It was one of the trickiest things we’ve ever worked on,” said Wood, explaining that they don’t do much residential work. They consulted with everyone from structural engineers to real estate agents, making sure that the new combined space would be saleable if they ever wanted to move.
The final design suits the family’s needs perfectly. The entrance, their original front door, opens into what they call the “extra room”—a space that has become a playground for the children. They were even able to add a small gym by taking out a closet. To compensate for the lost storage, they added a space under the new stairs, which are installed at the back of the first floor. The newly expanded kitchen—the cabinets are pushed back two feet—opens into the dining and living area. The couple dropped the kitchen ceiling six inches to make room for wiring and conduits. The result provides a strong visual contrast with the airy dining and living room.
The second floor presented a tougher problem. It was built with pretext plank flooring, which they removed to install a new floor—a tricky feat considering that part of the planks extended into the other apartment on the floor. Because of plumbing lines, the master bath had to be sited where the old apartment’s kitchen used to be. A spacious master suite takes up the rest of the second floor. The third level contains two children’s bedrooms and a bath.
The couple made several structural improvements. “The building was put up fast and cheap,” said Wood, “it was really slapdash.” They decided to replace all the windows, something they had to get permission from the condominium’s board to do.
The renovation took nine months, and the family lived there through the entire project, something architects routinely advise clients against. “When they took the floor out upstairs, we all lived in the old living room,” Wood explained. That meant that bedtime was 7:30 p.m.—for everyone. Forget watching television. When that ordeal was over, they decamped and moved upstairs, but had no kitchen. Wood and Andraos did dishes in the shower.
Wood admits that they were neither the best architects nor the best clients. “We did things that I’d never allow a client to do,” he said. For example, to save money the duo had opted for a ten-foot stair stringer as opposed to an eight-foot one. “But,” said Wood, “When I saw it, it looked so ugly that I had it ripped out. I would have never allowed a client to do that.”
Now that the renovation is a distant memory, the couple is reveling in their three-bedroom, three-bath apartment. “We put so much love into the project,” he said. “It’s a godsend.”
This article is part of The Architect's Newspaper's "Passive Aggressive" feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!
“The desert house typology reached an ending point where it became all about overhangs and metal—a common vocabulary of what a desert house should be,” said Dan Wood, principal of WORKac. “We felt like that needed to be renewed.” For their typological update, Wood and his wife and partner Amale Andraos conceived an off-the-grid guesthouse in Tubac, Arizona, about 45 minutes out of Tucson. The approximately 1,500-square-foot structure will balance on a single column (a pilotos, joked Wood) with an extreme cantilever to create a shaded yard and a triangular frame.
The resulting form cites Arcosanti, Taliesin West, Earthships, and Spanish missions.
“There is a culture of embedding the architecture in the landscape that has this very environmental sort of aspect—the desert has this immediate effect of asking you to respect it because it’s so striking and beautiful,” said Andraos.
Starting with the concept of a classic Earthship (a passive house made of natural and recycled materials), Wood and Andraos experimented with thermal and structural mass. Rather than embed the building in the ground like an Earthship, they elevated it, using a weighty mass of adobe bricks to insulate the home. Orienting this thermal mass to the north, a slanted glass wall with photovoltaic panels faces south, its 35-degree angle running parallel to the stairs inside. An outdoor fire pit and garden atop the fireplace conveniently occupies the incongruous space created by the building’s two masses coming together.
Inside, the layout is organized with the private rooms—two bedrooms and a bathroom—embedded into the adobe brick mass, and the public spaces—including a kitchen, living-and-dining area, and greenhouse—in the glass-enclosed portion. The triangular shape and a series of screens and shades will help to circulate air and provideheating and cooling. “We’ve always been interested in systems and architecture that we can play and engage with,” Andraos said. “This ties all of it together in a microcosm: heat and cooling, air movement, water collection, and growing food and plants.” The division of space also allows the architects to play with compression, expanding from eight-foot-high ceilings in the bedrooms and bathroom to 18-foot-ceilings at the apex of the home.
Under the main house, parking spaces will be dug into the ground to further facilitate cool air circulation, and a workshop-toolshed will inhabit the column. The rest of the area is meant to be used as a deck. “It’s a very different kind of space under the house, but it still resonates with the traditional typology,” Wood said. “We’re trying to see how much we can float, so all of the furniture is suspended.”
Although the house will feature composting toilets and other sustainable systems, it is meant to be largely manual and will require the residents to interact with it. “We want to engage with that history of Earthship systems with an aesthetic that’s very ad-hoc, anti-architectural, and DIY, but bring a contemporary take to it.”
For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, our brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.