Location: Brooklyn, NY, USA
Architect In Charge: Alex Gil
Area: 2300.0 ft2
Project Year: 2012
Photographs: Michael Vahrenwald
Structural Engineer: GRANT Engineering
Contractor: Euda Construction
From the architect. Inserted into and on top of an 1800s tenement in Brooklyn, the Carved Duplex is the home of an architect and his wife. Since purchasing the building, the couple had been living in one of the slender 500 SF railroad apartments on the third floor. The renovation’s ambition was to create a large experimental space behind the old building’s facade, strategically pairing a rich material experience with white and black surfaces. The project was guided by the experience of the human body being in close proximity to large monolithic forms. Monumental shapes, in various material forms, are carved into and from the space, revealing creative room transitions, innovative furniture concepts, and surprising details. Surface materials actively move through the space. Grey wood floors travel onto walls to lead inhabitants up stairs or down hallways. Walls are selectively carved away forcing reflection on historic relics such as twin fireplaces. The resulting space is a minimalist tour de force of controlled lines, large volumetric forms, and authentic materials. The plan called for the combination of two railroad apartments on the third floor and the construction of a rooftop addition, but adding height to the 150 year-old+ brick tenement presented structural challenges. The demolition of the third floor apartments revealed crumbling exterior walls and bricks that could be removed by hand. Ultimately, the upper six feet of the building's masonry walls were completely rebuilt with new steel joists replacing the original wood joists. In addition, a steel beam running the full length of the building was added, and columns were dropped through the building’s center all the way to the cellar floor. The original wood cornice on the building face was also removed and restored.
The new inserted structure supports the monolithic COR-TEN clad fourth floor addition. The 25 foot x 25 foot steel box houses a bright, multipurpose entertainment / living room which opens onto a 300 SF roof deck. Gray when initially installed, the COR-TEN panels have weathered to a rust red that echoes the building’s traditional facade and represents the first ventilated, COR-TEN, rainscreen envelope in NYC. The living room addition was designed as a flexible space that can change with the couple’s needs. It is easily converted into a master bedroom suite with bath.
The fourth floor bath features handmade jewel-like tiles encrusted into the walls, a carved recess for storage, and a frameless glass shower enclosure.
Transitioning downstairs, the quality of light changes to four punched windows in the open format dining / kitchen area. This space features two large flanking triangular volumes; the stairs descending from the addition and the wood clad “wedge core” volume that houses the stairs through which the duplex is accessed from the public hall. Together, the two triangles create a dynamic formal entry environment that falls away as the large dining room is entered.
The dining room is dominated by a 12 foot custom table, also designed by the architect. The Monolith Table is created from red cedar planks measuring 3 inches in thickness throughout and appears as a single, eroded block when the four chairs, two benches and two booths are tucked in. On either side of the table, the sheetrock is carved away to reveal two original fireplaces, a surprise find in the demolition.
The kitchen is a minimalist design that eliminates the concept of overhead cabinets and echoes the massing of the Monolith Table. Kitchen storage occurs in the stainless steel floating island and in the wood clad cube, which houses the refrigerator, pantry, and third floor bath.
Past the kitchen is the third floor bath. A carved recess backed by silver travertine travels into the bathing area, tracing a sitting nook above the custom stainless steel bathtub.
A short, wood clad hallway leads past the bath to the combined master bedroom / dressing room where the quality of light again changes. Here, the gray wood walls transition to black to encourage sleep. A bookshelf is cut from the drywall revealing a back of exposed brick. The bedroom is the most secluded place in the Carved Duplex, positioned behind the monolithic stair, wedge core and bath cube, all of which provide significant buffering from the street and a quiet retreat.