Interplay: Studies in Rowhouse Design

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Virginia Tech

This thesis began as an exploration of the idea of home, a study that revealed the importance of place. Seeking to understand what makes a successful place, I studied neighborhoods with which I was familiar, identifying characteristics of both the vital and the lifeless. As a foundation for architectural exploration, this study helped me to recognize the dynamic qualities of denser, more urban neighborhoods, and to establish rowhousing as the vehicle through which to undertake my exploration of urban living. While providing the genesis for the project and further defining certain elements as worthy of further study, this initial exploration was nonetheless lacking. I had to do more than just speak of the conditions I hoped to achieve and of the characteristics of the elements with which to make the conditions manifest. I had to make the conditions, make the elements. It was essential for me to establish a clear order, so that these conditions could be brought together to form a cohesive whole.

I was able to arrive at a fully conceived expression of the project by structuring the conditions that I identified through the application of three dimensional grids. The interrelationships among the grids helped structure the relationships among various conditions, ensuring that they enhanced one another, and were, in fact, stronger together than separately. Working with the grids taught me that in order for them to be effective regulators the grids had to be intelligible while still being flexible; that they should help define but never dictate. It exposed the tension between the regulating devices we, as architects, utilize as tools for design and the three-dimensional material with which the designs are constructed, as well as the obligation of reconciling the two. Not only must the device accommodate the material and the material reveal the device, but indeed all facets of the design must be considered in relation to one another and to the whole. When philosopy, device, and material work in service of one another the possibility for architectural expression rather than simple building is created. One does not revere great architects solely for their philosophies of design, the functionality of the spaces they create, the materials with which they construct them, or the regulating devices they employ, but rather for the complexity with which these elements are brought together to form a whole so well designed that it seems that it could have been done no other way.

rowhouse, interplay, new urbanism, party wall, entry, joists, stair, grid