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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dashed Expectations

Occasionally, a building defies your expectations. This is something we celebrate when the architect's craft creates an unexpected sensation that delights or provokes us. When it appears to be accidental, we tend to just shrug and shuffle along. Yet there may still be an opportunity to consider the possibilities created by our false expectations.

This building in the Village turned out differently that I expected. It raised my hopes, and then mostly left me confused. Walking up the sidewalk on Hudson Street, the pattern of the breeze blocks was distinctive, if a bit bland. My first assumption was that this was the the exterior wall of the parking garage, which was designed for natural ventilation.

Then as I actually started to pass the wall, I noticed windows behind the breeze blocks. It isn't clear how that view would feel from the interior space. Perhaps it could work to allow plenty of natural light into the rooms while screening them from sidewalk activity. Noting that the blinds were closed suggested it may not provide enough privacy. I started to think it was an interesting, low-cost attempt to integrate the facade across both the rooms and the parking garage. It was fascinating enough I decided to snap a couple pictures.

After crossing the garage entrance, I was surprised by the next section. The breeze blocks were covering in front of a solid concrete wall. There was no natural ventilation here.

This treatment did create a unified facade as expected, but the breeze blocks were mere decorative screen. There was no actual breeze. Moreover, by covering the windows, the effect was a heavy street wall that indicated less activity than windows would normally provide. It left a lot of questions about the design intent.

At the same time, the ideas it raised could provide some possibilities. Could more carefully integrated window panels and breeze blocks or precast concrete sections work to create a continuous facade including areas with natural ventilation and rooms that more actively engage the street? Could the interior lighting or reflections off the windows help to create some sense of movement and occupancy, or would it differentiate between open and enclosed areas, undermining the effect of a continuous facade? What is the potential for interesting shadow patterns on the sidewalk at night with lighting on the breeze blocks? Sometimes a material speaks out with potential, even when the design at hand did not follow it to its conclusion.

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