Historic Richmond Infill Design Competition
Union Hill Live Work
Drawing on History: Infill Design Competition 2016 – First Prize Professional Entry
Historic Richmond neighborhoods including Union Hill and Jackson Ward are coming back to life, attracting new generation of residents. It is hard to pin down exactly what makes these neighborhoods so attractive, but we can speculate that it emerges from a community “ambiance.” It is the feeling one gets walking along the sidewalk of a tree lined street waving to a neighbor. The buildings themselves have a consistency that facilitate this: all buildings, through a seemingly implicit pact, mostly conform in scale, material and arrangement of public and private spaces to create, at the meta level, a community “ambiance.” Thus the appeal of the neighborhood becomes neighborhood itself; like a coral reef, the beauty is the reef and its colorful inhabitants. There is no scenic view or anchor Starbucks that gives the neighborhood life, it comes from within.
Recognizing this, it is a natural extension that the preservation of Union Hill should not focus solely in the preservation of individual buildings. New construction should be encouraged to “mind the gaps” where buildings were lost, so long as the new construction amplifies the neighborhood’s “ambiance”. They must be good neighbors. If not, the most attractive quality of the community (and building site) is lost.
This project attempts just such a thing. The core usefulness of the this project hinges on a programmatic retooling that recognizes the needs of our lives now as different from what they were a century ago. Instead of a large commercial space on the ground floor, with a residence above, there are four smaller live-work units. Honoring the public / private relationship of the neighborhood, the ground floor is a transparent workspace. Artists and artisans can practice their craft in full view of the street. Large transparent garage doors can be opened, completely merging indoor and out. The act of working becomes not only a street front advertisement, but client and customer interface directly from the sidewalk, contributing to the sense of community.
The dwelling units on the second floor are smaller and more compact, yet private from the street. The program is evident from exterior: bedrooms have the smallest openings, living rooms have more glass but are above the street, and the most public workspaces can be completely opened to the street. Additionally, the interior arrangement is decidedly open, reflecting a greater equality of modern inhabitants.
With regards to materials, we must acknowledge that construction practices are simply different now than at the time these neighborhoods were first built. Building ornamental metal porches, hand made bricks, and wood windows today does not fit the current economic demographic of Union Hill. Instead prefabricated, perforated corrugated metal replaces ornamental metal of the past. Brick is a thread that ties this building to its neighbors, but in a sculptural way rather than a flat facade, expressing the fireplace and front steps more sculpture than facade.
As this building occupies a corner lot, it acknowledges the corner, but abstractly. Instead of flatly beveling the corner to recognize both streets, a cantilevered roof reaches out to the primary street while a large garage door opens to the secondary; like abstract art multiple reads acknowledge both sides. Ultimately this building aspires to itself become a community in the greater community of Union Hill. Artists, Artisans, and Professionals all can live and work in close proximity to each other and the community in which they live. The building becomes the community, and the neighborhood ambiance grows louder.