The clients for a new single-family house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park—a couple with two young children—were both trained as architects, and their experience proved to be both an asset and a challenge for local firm HBRA Architects. “They had a real aversion to precedent,” says Aric Lasher, FAIA, the firm’s director of design. While the clients’ backgrounds allowed them to articulate their concerns, the two were locked in what they thought were conflicting aesthetic goals: The husband preferred a vernacular approach, while the wife was interested in contemporary Modernism. However, “I’ve always thought there was a simple relationship between the vernacular and modern,” Lasher says. “The two are not exclusive.”
The house’s simple plan is efficient, with a central hall and stairway topped by a skylight and living spaces located on the northwest and southeast sides to maximize natural light. Interstitial zones hold services, including a second means of egress (condensed as a spiral stair behind closed doors), and storage. Common spaces are clustered on the second floor, with a living room that opens onto a small private backyard and a semi-private park that’s shared with the neighboring townhouses and a related high-rise. The third floor contains the house’s four bedrooms. Two outdoor rooms defined by the core and party walls comprise most of the fourth floor: The front northwest-facing room features a kitchen garden while the rear southeast-facing outdoor room is a living space with a fireplace.
The palette is constrained, balancing the interests of the clients and the architect in expressing both vernacular and modern touches. Travertine tile floors, white plaster walls, and oak doors and stairs provide most of the interior material interest. On the exterior, the challenge was how to be a good neighbor to the rest of the development, which is a new series of traditional-style townhouses spanning half a block. The architect’s answer lay in gridded masonry that gives a material sense of the bearing wall’s construction with a bit of abstract expression of the traditional Venetian palazzo—a typology that famously balances symmetries with asymmetries. “I don’t like the approach of randomness,” Lasher says. “I believe there can be a liveliness to formalism.” The post-and-lintel system utilizes buff-colored Minnesota dolomitic limestone. Metal-clad wood windows alternate with infill sandstone panels, whose natural graining and patterning brings variation to the façade.
While discussion of precedent with the clients was verboten, Lasher still managed to incorporate references to architectural history within the house’s seemingly simple exterior and interiors.
Project: Lincoln Park House, Chicago
Architect: HBRA Architects, Chicago . Aric Lasher, FAIA (director of design and principal-in-charge); Gary Ainge, FAIA (administrative principal); Adam Tomski (project manager); William Mahalko, Jeff Policky (project team)
M/E/P Engineer: GeoSolar Energy Farm
Structural Engineer: Goodfriend Magruder Structure
General Contractor: LG Construction
Landscape Designer and Green Roof Consultant: Intrinsic Landscaping
Lighting Designer: Anne Kustner Lighting Design
Exterior Envelope: Wiss Janney Elstner Associates
Home Automation: Connecteriors
Size: 7,011 square feet (includes 875-square-foot garage)
This article appeared in ARCHITECT's March 2017 issue.
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS:
This new townhouse reconciles the character of the conventional Chicago streetscape and the clients’ desire for a design that accommodates modern space and a timeless sense of repose through use of traditional materials and a non-historical expressive language. Extensive landscaped roofs, sophisticated energy systems and productive kitchen garden are part of a strategy to embrace environmental stewardship and provide qualities and benefits typically associated with the detached single-family house in an urban setting.