Building Blocks

In the process of adapting the design of a prototypical row house to different site conditions including topography, scale, zoning constraints and programmatic requirements, we have recently developed a series of row house typologies, some of which are illustrated here. 

TYPE 1, 1A

TYPE 1, 1A

   TYPE 2, 2A


TYPE 2, 2A



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Type 1 consists of single family row house dwellings with rear loading garages on a hilly site. In response to the rhythm of row houses on surrounding blocks, and as is common in traditional row house typologies, bay windows are employed as means to break down scale and animate the streetscape.  In Type 1 the bay window spans the height of the top two floors.

Given the length of this particular development, and the fact that the site topography along the row varies significantly from one end of to the other, a secondary type (1A) was developed, in which the bay window changes in elevation and encompasses the lower level and 1st floor, with an open balcony above. The end result is a playful rhythm along the length of the block that helps to animate the streescape while mitigating the changes in elevation between adjacent row houses.

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Type 2 is a variation of Type 1. In this case the garages are front loading. The desire for shared curb-cuts for garage access brought upon the need to mirror the row houses side by side, hence the variation.

As with Type 1, bay windows are employed. In order to avoid creating the appearance of double wide row houses given the mirroring, here the bay windows are differentiated in their massing (2 tall versus 1  w/ balcony), and the color of the siding material varies. Adjacent garage entrances are slipped from front to back with respect to each other, further breaking down the scale of the 2 row-house module and creating an interesting figure/ground effect that further dematerializes the module.

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Type 3 is a 2-family variation, in which a cellar level was added, raising the main floor about 4 feet above grade. This development consists of 2 row houses only, so the need for variety was lessened.

In response the two story scale along the street of this development and the typical covered entrances, the bay windows here have morphed into a larger element that  provides cover at the front door while creating balconies above. The main body of the buildings recede 3 feet back, allowing for the 2 story continuity along the street wall.

Urban Rhythms

We currently have several multi-family projects on the boards at ARC-T, ranging from multi unit building renovations/additions to multiple row house developments. Like typical row houses throughout Washington DC, these projects were conceived of as variations on type, adapting in response to program, zoning regulations, and site context. The projects are in varying stages of development, and are expected to be completed this Spring/Summer.

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14st Street front view.jpg

14TH ST NW - demolition under way

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SHERMAN AVE NW - pre-construction

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E ST SE - pre-construction

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WEST ST SE - conceptual design


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.