Brooklyn's phenomenal popularity this century has resulted in a lot of new apartment buildings mixing with the borough's distinctive residential fabric. But much of the new is questionable in terms of scale and design. This six-story building with three duplex apartments, designed by James Cleary Architecture, is a modern yet applaudable addition to one of the borough's brownstone neighborhoods. In lieu of stone, the facade is zinc, ipe wood window boxes, and a wood screen on the ground floor; exposed concrete and wood predominate inside. James Cleary answered some questions about the project.
View of building from the street
Can you describe your design process for the building?
Our design process is always very open ended. We initially focus on identifying the ideas and concepts that will become the building’s DNA, without being concerned with the project’s eventual form. Those ideas are then explored in multiple preliminary design studies that vary widely and often lead in directions that could not have been anticipated at the project’s outset. For 253 Pacific Street, this included the decision to expose extensive swaths of structural concrete both inside and out, and to pair kitchens and staircases to create unique cross views through each apartment.
Detail of facade and entry
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?
There were significant adjustments to the building’s design during construction. Our challenge was to smoothly integrate these changes in ways that were true to the spirit of the original design. The greatest of these challenges was a zoning change that went into effect after the start of site excavation. We had a very short time to enlarge the building by 20% - including changing both the building’s height and depth - and to significantly rework each apartment’s plan to take advantage of their increased sizes. In the end we were able to do this without impacting the design quality, or sacrificing the project’s budget or schedule.
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
While 253 Pacific’s construction and style are unapologetically modern, the building’s design is also closely tied to the example set over a century ago by Brooklyn’s brownstones, whose high ceilings, thoughtful apartment layouts, and great depth on the detailing of their facades, were all profound influences on our design.
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?
On this project we experimented with ways of augmenting traditional construction documents in order to reduce the gap between our design intent and the contractor’s efforts on site, and we will definitely build on these efforts on future projects. While traditional architectural construction drawings present all the information needed to correctly construct a project, it is often too easy for the contractor to lose the forest for the trees as they sift through the construction documents. For this project, we created "cheat sheets" by incorporated renderings, model photographs, and hand sketches directly into drawing sheets issued during construction, and always boiled down essential information to one or two self contained drawing sheets, rather than keeping information compartmentalized and scattered across a dozen sheets.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Elevation and wall section