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.

16 Responses to “Did Somebody Say Context?”

  1. Uncle Vinny

    3200 sq ft on the Sterling house…for a single family… yowza! I wonder how many sq ft they wedged into the bungalow?

  2. holz

    hey, similar to this riff by roger diener @ the centre pasquart in biel….

  3. Joe G

    Oh, this is brill!

  4. jonglix

    Hmm I don’t know, the mass is too far off for me. They pushed the dimensions a little too far so the new one speaks of (last year’s?) yuppie excess.

    I never noticed this unique block before, thanks!

  5. Kathryn

    Yeah it’s tooo wierd and not very friendly. I’d rather see something totally different and modern, but without the ‘preciousness’.

  6. Dell Jung

    The Landmarks Preservation Board required a similar but updated massing and exact setbacks, I think their requirements limited the potential.

  7. spanky

    yeah too bad these guys are bankrupt and are asking their employees to work for free….go back to architecture school you dropouts…this house will sit on the market longer than their orange wall shithole next to parnells.

  8. Jay

    Nice post. I like what they’ve done there.

  9. Jeff

    That would look good in Chicago.

  10. Spencer

    Way to cut out of the photos the even smaller house to the right.

  11. Squints

    I like it… mostly. Just a little too big. if they had used similar dimensions to the older homes and placed the windows in identical positions I would like it better.

  12. dave

    To spanky and others I’ve heard bash these guys for not finishing arch school:
    What does it matter? these guys are doing more (A) rchitecture than most UW grads and 95% of UW professors

  13. Ronnie Lee Rainwater

    I am the listing agent, and represent Pb Elemental’s projects. This home is already sold, so, just to clarify…it obviously didn’t have any trouble in that department!

    Pb Elemental has continued to stay strong while other builders and architectural firms have not, I think that says a lot about their product.

    Keep up the good work Pb!

  14. mistamatic

    That thing is so ass ugly I don’t even want to see the inside. Jesus.

  15. Sheddy

    Rainwater is pb’s own agent and the house is not “sold” to anyone. The house on 23rd is simply built for one of their employee… they are filing for bankruptcy!

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