HBCH December, January, February 2009 : Page 50

Steve hall - hedrich bleSSing HOMEFRONT DESIGN Full Frontal Façade fetish, anyone? A new breed of Chicago home puts its coolest front forward By Thomas Connors ON THE GRID! Clockwisefromleft: Jeanne Gang’s Brick Weave House; a close-up of Brick Weave’s facade; the light patterns cast across the interiors. “Form follows function” is a great notion, but that doesn’t mean that you can always read a building at first glance. Which isn’t such a bad thing. After all, with so many banal new structures lining our city’s streets, it’s a treat to come across a façade that keeps you guessing. Take the Brick Weave House, designed by architect-of-the-moment Jeanne Gang. Te perforated brick volume looks like nothing else on the block. For one thing, this former stable runs right up to the sidewalk, making it impossible to miss. And with its almost monolithic profile, the house could pass for a small commercial or industrial building, rather than a private home. From afar, the house seems nearly confrontational, but up close, it loosens up. Te openings between the Roman bricks allow passersby to glimpse a small garden and the glass façade of the living spaces beyond. Inside, sunlight passing through the woven brick façade casts a lively pattern across the home’s eclectically outfitted dining room, where a traditional tufted sofa keeps company with a glossy dining table and a mix of contemporary chairs. “I was thinking of a delicate way to use brick,” says Gang. “Brick is usually so heavy and it’s so traditional. I was trying to find another way to interpret that material. Te interesting part was that a structural engineer’s criteria and a mason’s criteria are totally different. Structurally you want to limit the movement and the masonry wants to be able to breathe, to expand and contract with the temperature. When you see something that’s designed that’s very light or very fine, it’s not easy to get there. I love that part of architecture, that it can be very technical. But then making it into something that’s completely artful—that’s when it gets really good.” Te house has taken some licks for not playing well with its neighbors, but as Gang observes, keeping everything in context isn’t always easy— or gratifying. “Tere’s every possible style on that street, from developer spec townhomes to Victorian, to nondescript bungalows. I think the most honest thing you can do is work within your own time. Anything else would be artificial.” Architects Linda Searl and Joe Valerio know a thing or two about that. When they built their very modern home people didn’t know what to make of it. “Once,” says Searl, “when we had food delivered, the guy walked up and said, ‘Oh, I thought this was a disco.’ A lot of people didn’t even think it could be a house.” Situated at the corner of Ohio and Oakley, the house is a constellation of staggered boxes sheathed in white-painted masonry and aluminum continued... 50 | | Winter 2010

Design

Thomas Connors

Full Frontal<br /> <br /> Façade fetish, anyone? A new breed of Chicago home puts its coolest<br /> <br /> “Form follows function” is a great notion, but that doesn’t mean that you can always read a building at first glance. Which isn’t such a bad thing. After all, with so many banal new structures lining our city’s streets, it’s a treat to come across a façade that keeps you guessing. <br /> <br /> Take the Brick Weave House, designed by architect-of-the-moment Jeanne Gang. Te perforated brick volume looks like nothing else on the block. For one thing, this former stable runs right up to the sidewalk, making it impossible to miss. And with its almost monolithic profile, the house could pass for a small commercial or industrial building, rather than a private home. <br /> <br /> From afar, the house seems nearly confrontational, but up close, it loosens up. Te openings between the Roman bricks allow passersby to glimpse a small garden and the glass façade of the living spaces beyond. Inside, sunlight passing through the woven brick façade casts a lively pattern across the home’s eclectically outfitted dining room, where a traditional tufted sofa keeps company with a glossy dining table and a mix of contemporary chairs.<br /> <br /> “I was thinking of a delicate way to use brick,” says Gang. “Brick is usually so heavy and it’s so traditional. I was trying to find another way to interpret that material. Te interesting part was that a structural engineer’s criteria and a mason’s criteria are totally different. <br /> <br /> Structurally you want to limit the movement and the masonry wants to be able to breathe, to expand and contract with the temperature. When you see something that’s designed that’s very light or very fine, it’s not easy to get there. I love that part of architecture, that it can be very technical. <br /> <br /> But then making it into something that’s completely artful—that’s when it gets really good.” Te house has taken some licks for not playing well with its neighbors, but as Gang observes, keeping everything in context isn’t always easy— or gratifying. “Tere’s every possible style on that street, from developer spec townhomes to Victorian, to nondescript bungalows. <br /> <br /> I think the most honest thing you can do is work within your own time. Anything else would be artificial.” Architects Linda Searl and Joe Valerio know a thing or two about that. When they built their very modern home people didn’t know what to make of it. <br /> <br /> “Once,” says Searl, “when we had food delivered, the guy walked up and said, ‘Oh, I thought this was a disco.’ A lot of people didn’t even think it could be a house.” Situated at the corner of Ohio and Oakley, the house is a constellation of staggered boxes sheathed in white-painted masonry and aluminum Shingles. “When we moved in that neighborhood, there was nothing much here that we needed to relate to,” recalls Searl. <br /> <br /> “T ere was a warehouse across the street on north side, and we still have a school with a big, blank gymnasium wall on the east. We thought the best thing we could do was something that would enliven the street. So our idea had a lot to do with the energy of an urban corner.” Highly animated, almost explosive with dormered elements, the Searl/ Valerio residence doesn’t play it safe.<br /> <br /> But it doesn’t snub the neighborhood either. While some of its windows are placed high on the walls to lighten the interiors without exposing them to the streets, the ample fenestration itself is a sociable touch—and the perfect geometric accompaniment to The homeowners’ contemporary furnishings, some of which they designed themselves. <br /> <br /> And while some elements, like the elliptical protrusion off the second fl oor, are real eye-catchers, equally engaging are the randomly projected rusticated blocks that punctuate the masonry façade.<br /> <br /> Noticing the Gothic details of a building in the 2000 block of W. Dickens, it’s easy to wonder what this building is—or was. Its ecclesiastical mien suggests a small church or convent, but in fact, the decades-old building was once a funeral parlor. Today, it’s home to a young family. No, not the Addams.<br /> <br /> In fact, as re-imagined by architect Richard Blender, the interiors of the property are barely a shade of their former selves. Although he retained some of the original decorative moldings, the rooms are defi ned by a contemporary, streamlined aesthetic, graced with Asian-inspired details.<br /> <br /> “T ere’s always the question,” says Blender, “of how to combine the old with the new. And rather than try to fi t in with the old, we really try to create a contrast, a counterpoint to what’s there already.” When the building was a funeral home, a reception room ran the width of the place, facing the street. Blender reworked that area into a foyer with a powder room, coat closet, and stairway leading to the second fl oor. <br /> <br /> Opting for an open plan, he inserted only a concrete-clad fi replace to separate the foyer from the expansive living/dining room beyond. It’s a look you never guess from the street. It’s true; you can’t judge a book…

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