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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post by Catarina Ferreira, AIA

While visiting a job site this morning we stumbled upon a nearby vacant building. Inside we found a cathedral of sorts: an almost empty shell, most of the floor framing removed, and the unique opportunity to experience a row house as a single volume with light piercing from various directions. The building will likely be converted to cookie cutter condominiums and the sublime nature of its current condition erased forever.

While we certainly have nothing against renovations, we wish there were more opportunities for maintaining some of the inherent beauty of these empty shells.


post by Catarina Ferreira, AIA

It is not unusual for prospective clients to ask for advice regarding purchasing a home with the intent of renovating. Even though the project may not materialize for quite some time, assisting prospective clients in finding the right property can offer the opportunity to earn their trust and build a good foundation for the eventual project. Sometimes it leads nowhere; sometimes it leads to a dream project. One thing is for certain in this profession: don't be too quick to judge. Dream projects sometimes wear masks; projects that sound like a dream at first often don't materialize.

We are fortunate to have been able to assist a client recently in evaluating candidates for purchasing, in preparing a feasibility study to help them evaluate the potential of the frontrunner, and ultimately in purchasing the home. We are currently at the end of the schematic design phase.


The existing house.

The existing house.

So, what set this house apart from many others our client considered? Was it the obvious front-runner all along? Not at all. The house our clients eventually purchased was an ugly duckling with great bones, in a great neighborhood. That's a great combination of attributes. Undesirable homes (which in Washington are often mid-century designs), with good bones, and good zip codes make the best candidates for achieving your dream of owning a contemporary house. They often already have contemporary massing, open floor plans, large windows, and (sometimes) high ceilings.

Besides being an ugly duckling, this particular house presented a few challenges: the main level was what is typically a walkout basement, below street level, and the garage occupies a large portion of the front yard. On the positive side, it already had contemporary bones and proportions, so transforming it into a dream contemporary house for our clients was much less of challenge than if we were working with the typical Washington area front hall colonial even a standard split-level ranch.

The key to arriving at a desirable design solution was quickly identified: move the main level to the actual 1st floor of the house, lift the massing of the house to give it more curb appeal and more compatible with the height of its neighbors, and rework the entry sequence. Luckily the existing house is in good shape and about 50% can be renovated lightly while the remaining 50% will be largely rebuilt. The area being rebuilt contains the main living spaces and a new master suite, the other half bedrooms and bedrooms. New siding, windows, trims, roofing, clerestory windows over the front of the existing roofline, and wood slat screening will help to unify the two halves.

Proposed alterations.

Proposed alterations.


Our newest project: CUBIC HOUSE

We are renovating a 1940s house in Northwest DC. Check out these existing vs. proposed images!

This project illustrates what can be done with a modest budget to transform the average DC house. For more images, click HERE.