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    AIA National Design Awards

    8 House, CopenhagenThe Standard, New York41 Cooper Square, New York | Poetry Foundation, ChicagoPittman-Dowell House, La Crescenta | Gates Center for Computer Science, PittsburghRhode Island Hall, ProvidenceRuth Lilly Visitors Pavilion, Indianapolis | Integral House, TorontoMilton Miller House, Owings MillsAnd More...

    Poetry Foundation · Chicago

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    The new Poetry Foundation building in Chicago, Illinois, was designed by John Ronan Architects. Located on a corner lot, the building's two screened main facades present a simple, unified geometry that belies a more complex assembly of forms inside.
    Photo: Steve Hall/ Hedrich Blessing Extra Large Image


    On an urban corner site in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, John Ronan Architects designed a building for an uncommon purpose: poetry.

    Working with their client, the nonprofit Poetry Foundation, the architects developed a vision for the organization's new home as "a spatial narrative that slowly unfolds, not unlike a poem," Ronan says.

    That narrative starts by creating a sense of mystery at the street. The Poetry Foundation building is wrapped in a perforated screen of black oxidized zinc that appears opaque when viewed obliquely. But viewed straight on, the screen starts to reveal what is behind it. The uncloaking is more literal at the corner, where the outer skin is cut away to reveal a courtyard, its inner perimeter defined by a glass wall with a section of birch cladding visible behind it.

    It is through this semipublic courtyard space, punctuated by trees and strips of moss set in sandblasted concrete, that visitors enter the building. Even before reaching the entrance, visitors can see the double-height library ahead, suggesting the building's literary focus.

    The birch wood that was visible from the street turns out to clad part of the 125-seat performance space. Designed to optimize acoustics for unamplified poetry readings, the room also includes surfaces of glass, concrete, and fabric, all arrayed to provide acoustically absorptive, reflective, or diffusive qualities at specified locations. Poets stand before a glass wall to read their work, with the courtyard as their backdrop.

    That same snaking glass wall defines the north side of the building's interior space. Upstairs, the second floor contains a large open office area facing the courtyard, while a row of private offices, conference rooms, and support spaces along the opposite wall is lined by a wooden bookshelf.

    The jury called the building "sublime in its stillness and detailing."

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    Light-colored materials and glass dominate the interiors of the Poetry Foundation building.
    Photo: Steve Hall/ Hedrich Blessing Extra Large Image

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    The entry to the Poetry Foundation building is accessed through a minimalist forecourt.
    Photo: Steve Hall/ Hedrich Blessing Extra Large Image

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    Poetry Foundation ground-floor plan drawing.
    Image: John Ronan Architects Extra Large Image

    Pittman-Dowell House · La Crescenta

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    The 3,500-square-foot (325-square-meter) home of Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell is a heptagonal house built on a hillside in La Crescenta, California, overlooking the Los Angeles basin below.
    Photo: Iwan Baan Extra Large Image

    Approaching from below on the winding driveway, it's hard to perceive the spatial complexity of Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell's new home. Though clearly not a conventional rectangular box, the building's largely white exterior reveals little of its contents. But as the visitor continues up the hillside, toward the 1950s Serulnic Residence by Richard Neutra, the new home's black-and-white roof comes into view, expressing the irregular floor plan beneath it.

    Located at the edge of Angeles National Forest in La Crescenta, California, north of downtown Los Angeles, both homes stand on a six-acre (2.4-hectare) site originally intended to be subdivided. Artists Pittman and Dowell purchased the entire property and initially lived in the Serulnic Residence, ultimately deciding to build a bigger house on one of the other two pads that had been leveled for construction half a century before.

    At the couple's request, the 3,500-square-foot (325-square-meter) home designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture defies convention. Heptagonal in plan, the one-story home is divided by a series of non-parallel walls into an array of irregularly shaped rooms. Only two doors are used in the entire interior, on a utility closet and a half-bathroom. Even the master bathroom is not an enclosed private space, but rather contains a cluster of semi-enclosed pods that hold the toilet, sink, and shower. At the center of the home, the angled walls define a two-lobed courtyard, visible to the indoor living spaces through glass walls.

    The result is a rich experience of continuous space and shifting interior and exterior views. As the jury described, "The house acts like an optical instrument with staged views of the surrounding landscape including spectacular views of the valley below and the hills above."   >>>

    ArchWeek Image

    Glazed walls dominate the living spaces of the Pittman-Dowell Residence.
    Photo: Iwan Baan Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Pittman-Dowell Residence floor plan drawing.
    Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture Extra Large Image

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    The Pittman-Dowell Residence features an irregularly angled central courtyard.
    Photo: Iwan Baan Extra Large Image

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