Essex Street House
Exposed indeed. The portals actually wrap the entire bar volume, even slipping underneath to elevate the mass from the ground below. Maynard notes that this move was intended to allow the garden to grow wild and reinstate itself around the base of the structure. The side effect is that it allows the addition to be perceived as a floating object — something mobile, perhaps.
The blend of rectangular bar, floating object, and industrial scale evokes images of the ubiquitous shipping container, which, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not a bad thing. Instead of transforming a mobile container into a house, Maynard has made a house into a mobile container — at least visually. If this is where the transformation got dirty, it seems a small price to pay.
Industrial qualities aside, this residence does maintain at least one very domestic tradition at its core. By attaching the expansion to the southwest corner of the original building, the existing kitchen transforms from secluded corner room into the heart of the house.
This center is an open one, with only two walls partitioning it off from adjacent rooms. These walls provide the required space for cabinets, utilities, and a half-bath. Acting as a connector between the old and new structures, the kitchen is less a room than a bridge. It is only loosely defined by a slight change in flooring pattern and bright red walls, exuding warmth both metaphorically and visually.
In the Essex Street House, Maynard is walking a fine line between industrial references and domestic needs. The success of the project lies in the balance between the two and the disciplined use of both simultaneously.
Instead of assigning a single task to elements or spaces, Maynard searches for ways to inject multiple meanings in each move. The kitchen is both pedestrian bridge and domestic center; the structure is both recycled industrial frames and delicate cedar screens; the mass has both the proportions of a shipping container and the porosity of a screened-in porch.
Commentary on the state of the building industry or the history of an industrial neighborhood is fine for a theoretical proposal, but the trick with residential design is that people actually have to be comfortable living there. Maynard seems to clearly understand this condition, for in the Essex Street House he has managed to successfully combine the best of both industrial and residential worlds in a very adaptable, contextual, and livable home.
Leigh Christy is an architect and writer living in Los Angeles.
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