Did Somebody Say Context?

Such a charming row of Victorian cottages — but wait, what’s that big brown box down at the end?

Why, that big brown box at 812 23rd Ave in the Central District is a brand new home designed by Pb Elemental, that just so happens to be located at one end of a highly unique row of five late nineteenth century houses with historic landmark status.

A similar sixth historic house once stood on the site, but oddly, was demolished in 1986, even though it had been landmarked in 1979.  And though the original house is gone, the landmark status still applies to the site — the Landmarks Preservation Board “indicated that it will not approve any development of the site that does not respect the historical character of the Twenty-Third Avenue Group” (via CD News).  As a result, Pb Elemental was granted a variance (pdf) to allow front and side setbacks that match those of the historic houses.

How else did the new house respect the character of its historic neighbors?  Study the photo below:

Surely no coincidence, the size and location of the windows and door, though the Pb house looks to be a tad wider, and the second floor window is higher.  I could find no documentation on whether or not these features were part of a deal, or a gesture made by the free will of the designers.  Either way, the result is an provocative twist on the idea of architecture responding to context.

Pb Elemental made a name for itself by blatantly disregarding context:  their Sterling Residence on Queen Anne was recognized with a 2007 AIA Honor Award Commendation for how it dared to be such an antithesis of its traditional bungalow neighbors.  And there is a similar smell of publicity stunt around the 812 23rd Ave house — it’s not hard to imagine the Pb’ers going after the site because of its potential for controversy.

Though some will no doubt opine that such obvious mimicry is sophomoric, I like it.  Old meets new, nothing subtle about it.  Mess with people’s heads a little, make them notice a building and think about it.  Good stuff.