Text by Ian Volner
Nader Tehrani was born to roam: Raised by diplomat parents who bounced between the U.K., U.S., and their native Iran, the 53-year-old architect and his firm, NADAAA, have exhibited an intellectual approach that finds opportunity for function and signification in such disparate locales as Gwangju, South Korea, and Newton, Mass. Since being named Cooper Union’s dean of architecture, Tehrani has continued to push his office forward while swinging between studios in New York City and Boston, and his ability to marry pedagogy with practice is borne out in a project completed this year: a house in Washington, D.C.
An expansion of a 1920s structure on the edge of scenic Rock Creek Park, the house shows how Tehrani can train his mental firepower on the domestic concerns of an affluent family in a quasi-suburban setting. Expanded from two levels plus a basement to four finished floors, the building’s brick envelope is the launching pad for an irregular pattern of windows that hint at the new and more sectionally complex interior: a warren of nooks and crannies, of private spaces that peek into public ones, and of privileged views into the park beyond. “We basically kept the ghost of the existing order,” says Tehrani, who kept most of the rooms in or close to their original alignment.
The biggest shift by far is in the northeast garden façade, which ceased being load-bearing and became a curtainwall. “A reconstructed Frankenstein monster,” as Tehrani calls it, the approach allowed for even more windows, the new openings furnishing castoff bricks used to pop up the attic into the new upper floor.
The house’s signature moment—if NADAAA can be said to have signatures—is in the central stairwell, a bristling array of wooden banisters. Aesthetically and practically, it recalls the vertical metal louvers in the firm’s Melbourne School of Design (with John Wardle Architects), with warmer materials and more subdued details as befits a residential project. Everything about the house, in fact, seems to find Tehrani in a more toned-down mode. “What we’re doing nowadays is decomposing, erasing, curating,” he says. “We’re eliminating the marks, so you come and pay attention to the irreducible aspects of the project.”
Project: Rock Creek House, Washington, D.C.
Architect: NADAAA, Boston and New York City . Nader Tehrani, Katherine Faulkner, AIA (principals); Harry Lowd (project manager); Sarah Dunbar, Remon Alberts, John Houser, Stephen Saude, Jonathan Palazzolo, Lisa Lostritto, Parke MacDowell, David Richmond, Dane Asmussen, Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh, Mahdi Alibakhshian, Sina Mesdaghi, Tom Beresford, Dan Gallagher (project team)
Landscape Architecture: Landworks Studio
Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Mechanical Engineer: Allied Consulting Engineering Services
Contractor: Abdo Development
Lighting: Hinson Design Group
Size: 10,193 square feet
This article appeared in ARCHITECT's January 2017 issue.
Text by Edward Keegan
The Rock Creek House is a startling renovation of a traditional, brick, 1920s home in Washington, D.C. Boston-based architectural firm NADAAA recaptured the attic and basement spaces of the original, two-story structure to create a new, 10,193-square-foot, four-story masonry dwelling within the perimeter of the original. Some semblance of the front, north façade’s formal order is preserved, but the home’s southern side, which faces Rock Creek, is reorganized as a more open and informal composition with a seemingly randomized placement of windows and openings—a nod to the naturalistic landscape.
The interior is reimagined as a more modern series of experiences, highlighted by two multi-height spaces. A new living room dominates the lower, garden level, which is connected to the entry level via a new opening and stair. A three-story central stair hall links the entrance to the former attic level. Both stairs feature laminated plywood constructions that subtly refer to the striated reorganization of space that marks the transition from old to new. The plywood constructions also house new additions, including closets, seats, and window frames—a vibrant architectural vocabulary for an old house.
The interventions are intelligent. The façades are fantastic. This is one of the most innovative projects we’ve seen.
— Juror Steven Ehrlich
Size: 10,193 square feet
Project DescriptionFROM THE AIA DC:
The Rock Creek House is an adaptive re-use project of a 1920's brick structure that was originally composed of two floors, as well as a mechanical basement at the garden level, and an attic that offered storage space. This renovation and re-adaptation leveraged the connection with the landscape and the robustness of the existing structure to modify the attic and basement to double the size of the house, while offering room for an expanding family of 5, with and added 2-3 staff members.
Urban on the north face at street level, the property gives way to a dramatic drop on the southern side in relation to Rock Creek, and the extended natural preserve that is its legacy. The house builds up on the formality of the front - its requisite symmetries, order and tone - while giving way for a more open informality on the south taking advantage of the relationship to sun and greenery.