Form Follows Thought

No offense, Mies, but in my opinion 'Form Follows Function' doesn't tell the full story. It's a powerful phrase, and it summed up the intent of design in the machine age, but it implies linearity in the design process.  Mies' buildings are stunning works of art, and I would argue they were driven by more than function. After all, architecture is more interesting than pure engineering, in which form only follows function. I would argue that in architecture Form Follows Function and Function Follows Form, and it goes on and on like that in a somewhat circular fashion until the design problem is solved. Form and Function inform and reinforce each other. Although function certainly comes before form, recognizing the power of form and treating it as an equally important participant, and not merely as the result of function, can help to propel function itself to an entirely new level. That's how inventions come about, for example.

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Modern Renewal

Post by Catarina Ferreira, AIA

Our Foxhall Renovation project, completed last year, was already a stunning modern house before we got our hands on it. It was designed by DC architect  Richard Ridley in the late 1970's. We were asked to give it a face-lift (literally), and improve its energy performance. There was a write up about the house in DC Urban Turf back in 2010 when it was last on the market.

The scope of the project also grew to include a kitchen addition and renovation. The intent of our intervention was to make the house reflect present day construction materials and techniques, and try to remove the identifiable period aesthetic that architects tend to love, and homeowners tend to hate, and arrive at a more timeless solution through light-handed, precise interventions. Our design process consisted of a thoughtful analysis of, and respectful approach to making alterations to the existing building. 

Altering a true modern house while maintaining its spirit is hard to do, and that was certainly the case with this one. The task we were given was to address both technical issues and the overall dated appearance of the building. Insulation was added to the exterior envelope (on the outside of the wall to avoid disturbing the interior finishes), roof materials, gutters and downspouts, windows and doors were replaced with higher quality building products. Cedar siding had been used uniformly on all exterior walls, giving the house a sculptural nature, but also lacking in scale, hierarchy and syntax. It is probably safe to say that Richard Ridley might have used rainscreen fiber-cement siding if it had been available in his time. It achieves a similar end result as the original vertical cedar siding (minimal, monolithic appearance). The verticality itself is an aspect of the cedar siding we decided not to replicate en masse, given the tall narrow volume (in a long narrow site) that the house is. Instead, our fiber-cement siding has a horizontal disposition, and a playful pattern for scale and interest.

In addition, instead of using the same material throughout, we felt the need to break down the previously sculptural yet monolithic volume into a couple of coherent parts. The fiber-cement siding was used to define the main volume on all sides (material 1). The plasticity of the volume was emphasized by the introduction of wood toned siding in the entrance overhand, which was also used elsewhere for small protrusions beyond the walls of the main volume (material 2).


We also introduced a skin of standing seam metal roofing (material 3) that peels itself away from the main volume to accommodate a wider portion of the house on the 1st floor, behind which is a double-height living room with a sculptural ceiling profile designed by the original architect. Here the verticality seemed appropriate, emphasizing the peeling away effect and contrasting with the horizontality of the fiber-cement siding panels. It also pays a certain homage to the original appearance of the house.

We treated the rear elevation in a similar way as the front. A bay window like volume protruding beyond the main volume was clad in wood toned siding.

A new, much more spacious kitchen was accomplished by building a small addition on one side of the house. This smaller volume was also clad with wood toned siding.

For more images of the completed project, go here.

The Real Deal

Post by Catarina Ferreira, AIA

Our single family residential projects are typically owner occupied. One has become an exception to that rule: the Bethesda Renovation/Addition. In this total gut renovation and addition project, a non-descript 1950's house was radically transformed. You may recall this blog post about the project, written during the design process.

The house is nearing completion, and is now a gracious 4,500 sq 5 bedroom,  4 bathroom contemporary home on cul-de-sac in Bethesda's exclusive Fort Sumner neighborhood, minutes from Washington DC.


Although in love with their new home, after an unusually long construction process due to a change in contractors, the owners have decided to sell the property. That decisions presents potential buyers with the rare opportunity to own a brand new, custom designed residence that was not a quick-flip led by developers, but a carefully designed, sourced, and constructed luxurious residence. 5006 Wyandot Ct, Bethesda MD, is a truly unique home, and is being offered at the price of $2,000,000. For the official listing, go here.

In addition to bright, spacious rooms throughout, the nearly finished home includes several unusual perks such as a gourmet kitchen with cabinets from Zampieri Cucine and high quality appliances (Miele ovens and built-in coffee maker, Wolf induction cooktop, and Liebherr built-in refrigerator), high end LED lighting throughout, 2 fireplaces, a large master suite with open dressing room and master bath (which includes a steam shower, soaking tub and custom concrete sink), several integral plaster accent walls, a large lower level recreation room with direct access to the backyard at grade, a large home gym/playroom. In addition, sustainable materials and practices were used throughout this home.

Some finishing touches still need to be applied, but the first open house took place on 7/15/17. Interest is already high.