03/19/14 10:45am

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We were dismayed to see that a fire appears to have gutted the twin Parfitt Brothers-designed tenement buildings at 472-474 Lafayette Avenue near Dough in Bed Stuy. We’re not sure when the fire occurred — it could have been months ago, since we hadn’t passed by here in a while.

Windows are boarded up in the front and along the opposite side, so it’s possible both buildings have been emptied out. The buildings are visually prominent on the street because of their architecture and colorfully painted terra cotta ornamentation. (The paint is a relatively recent embellishment.) They were a Building of the Day in 2011. In 2013, the one on the right, No. 474, changed hands for $1,400,000.

Does anyone have any details of what happened? Click through to the jump to see the side of No. 474 and a closeup of the painted terra cotta details from November. GMAP (more…)

03/04/14 4:00pm

adaptive-reuse-030414A distinguished  panel of architects and designers will discuss the virtues and challenges of adaptive reuse at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Thursday, March 6.

Panelists include Morris Adjmi, architect of the Wythe Hotel; Joseph Vance of Joseph Vance Architecture; Daniella Romano, Vice President of Programs, Research, and Archive at Brooklyn Navy Yard’s BLDG 92; Bill Hilgendorf of Uhuru Design; and photographer and co-author of “Design Brooklyn” Michel Arnaud.

“Design Brooklyn” co-author Anne Hellman will moderate. A book signing and beer for sale will follow the discussion.

“Adaptive Reuse in Brooklyn: Buildings, Rooms, and Objects” takes place at 128 Pierrepont Street from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased here.

02/25/14 10:00am

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The huge rental building — shrouded in mystery until its owner, Sam Boymelgreen, was revealed last week — at 33 Caton Place in Windsor Terrace will have what looks like a gray brick and rusted steel exterior, judging by this rendering a reader found on the architect’s website. While the materials and massing look a little bit dark and brooding in the rendering, we think the materials are interesting and it could be appealing from the street in person. The large street-level windows look pedestrian-friendly.

The architects are DJ Associates Architect PC and Luca Andrisani Architects. The 126-unit building, called The Kestrel, will have a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units. “Amenities will include a gym, spa, media room, business center, lounge, child playroom, attended parking, rooftop recreation spaces and concierge service,” said the architect’s site. As we mentioned last week, leasing will start in April.

What do you think of the design?

33 Caton Place [DJ Associates]
Mystery Windsor Terrace Build Belongs to Boymelgreen, Will Start Renting in April [Brownstoner]

02/24/14 10:00am

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A reader sent in this snapshot of the design for the single-family townhouse going up on a Clinton Hill corner near Pratt. It looks another neo-Georgian special. In our opinion, this style would be more at home in a Las Vegas re-creation of London or a Thomas Kinkade painting (if he painted urban landscapes) than brownstone Brooklyn.

Click through to the jump for a shot of the construction site last week and another from December.

New Single Family Townhouse Is Going up on Clinton Hill Corner Near Pratt [Brownstoner] GMAP (more…)

city point downtown brooklyn 112013

Architectural historian Matt Postal will lead a tour next month of new buildings in downtown Brooklyn, focusing mainly on the area around Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue. The tour will highlight the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the cultural district that’s growing up around it, the Barclays Center, as well as buildings designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Cook & Fox, and Hugh Hardy.

The Municipal Art Society is organizing the tour, which will happen Saturday, March 8 at 11 am. Tickets cost $20 or $15 for members.

02/20/14 11:30am

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Design Brooklyn brings us some fresh shots and commentary on Prospect Park’s beautiful new LeFrak Center at Lakeside.

In a section of Prospect Park called Lakeside — until recently the somewhat neglected site of the Wollman Rink — a crisply beautiful new building has taken its place within the landscape. Designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien in collaboration with the Prospect Park Alliance’s lead landscape architect Christian Zimmerman, the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center offers a year-round skating facility as well as a stunning example of how restoration can work hand-in-hand with modern design. (more…)

02/18/14 11:00am

A New York Times story pointed out one of the ironies of the building boom going on in Williamsburg: The “Williamsburg aesthetic,” exemplified by the Wythe Hotel’s remake of a vintage industrial building, is a worldwide design trend, but most of the new construction going up in Williamsburg is lowest-common-denominator eight-unit infill or tall glassy boxes designed to maximize profit, not win design awards.

The story details some of the neighborhood’s more interesting new projects, like its two shipping container homes and an interior cedar geodesic dome Kinfolk Studios is building at 94 Wythe Avenue. Architect Heather Roslund, who used to head Community Board One’s land use committee, praised the design of the new glass-fronted Emergency Medical Services depot at 288 Metropolitan Avenue, above.

What’s your take on the new look of Williamsburg?

Standing out Amid Monotony in Residential Design [NY Times]
Photo by New York City Department of Design and Construction

01/31/14 4:00pm

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Visitor Center

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is calling for nominations for Brooklyn’s most innovative buildings, along with the architects behind them, for the annual Building Brooklyn Awards. If you want to nominate a recently completed project that received its C of O by December 31, fill out the application form on their website by February 28.

They’re looking for new construction and renovation projects that “enrich Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and economy.”

Last year’s winners included the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitors Center (pictured), BAM Fisher, Wythe Hotel and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The awards ceremony will be held in July, and all the information can be found here.

Photo by Albert Vecerka/Esto via AIA

01/29/14 11:30am

Windsor Terrace House

A somewhat mysterious party wall in a Windsor Terrace house ended up taking a renovation in some surprising new directions.

Tax records pegged the house as late 19th century, but clues hinted that it might date from the mid-19th century or even earlier. A peaked roofline in the front of the house just barely visible behind a porch addition looked Italianate-Gothic, as did a dilapidated hayloft behind the house. The house was 25 feet wide and attached on one side, but it had originally been a freestanding house.

The whole thing was a “conglomeration of really ugly boxes,” said architect Alexandra Barker. ”It had a double decker front porch, it had been a pitched roof house, and there was a giant two story box on the back.”

The clients, a couple with three children, didn’t give Barker a lot of directives, but were open to something modern. Their main requirements were four bedrooms upstairs and space for entertaining, since they are very social and often host neighborhood gatherings.

As the renovation progressed, however, it became clear that a whole new building was needed. (more…)

01/28/14 10:45am

plaster repair, ask-the-rehabber.com 1So you live in an older home with plaster walls and ceilings, and you need to renovate. You need to run new electric lines, or repair plumbing, or perhaps change the placement of a door in the room, or open up a floor. Do you keep the plaster walls? Or maybe your walls or ceilings are cracked, or the plaster is falling off, exposing lath or brick. Or do you tear the plaster walls down to the studs, or at least the lath, and start over with sheets of drywall? Or do you run your lines, or make your repairs, opening up the walls as needed, and then repair the wall or ceiling? These are decisions old house owners make regarding the question of plaster or drywall, or perhaps a combination of both. The answer has a lot to do with the condition of existing plaster, time, personal preference, and of course, money. Are you a renovator or a restorer at heart?

The use of plaster has an ancient history. That story was told in Part One of this series. A skilled plasterer was a craftsman, worth the time and expense because of the beauty and long lasting nature of his work. The invention and use of drywall, aka sheetrock, in the early 20th century, was seen as a revolution in rapid and inexpensive homebuilding, replacing plaster in new construction during World War II. Part Two of this series explored the early use and later innovations to this increasingly versatile building material.

Cracks in original plaster occur for a number of reasons. Houses settle on their foundations, cracks can occur from nearby construction or road vibrations. Stress fractures can occur. The expansion and contraction of the wooden lath for a hundred years can cause plaster to crack or bow. If the original builder cut corners and used an inferior plaster mix, that can be the reason, after 100 years, the plaster is in bad shape. Water leakage is a biggie. So are opening walls for electrical and plumbing upgrades. There are a lot of reasons why plaster gives out, but when it does there are repairs that can be made if you choose to keep your plaster. (more…)

01/23/14 10:30am

drywall, welkandsonsdrywall.com 1

I am in the eternal process of renovating my apartment. It’s in an 1899 brick row house in Troy, and looks very similar to many of the later row houses you’d find in many parts of Brooklyn, with some regional architectural differences. Actually, some of those differences are quite striking, and I plan on writing about it when I do some more research, but suffice it to say, where it counts, my Troy house is not all that different from my old Brooklyn house. Both were built in the same year, and both have many of the houses’ original plaster walls.

There are a couple of rooms in my apartment here that have had alterations over the years, and in the course of that, some of the walls have been replaced. I could tell you which walls are plaster and which are drywall in a hot minute. There is a feel to plaster that is totally different than the feel of drywall. Now, whoever did the replacement was good. There are no screws visible, or tape lines, and they put a good skim coat over the drywall. But it has that generic flatness, and it’s softer. Behind that skim coat, behind the thin sheet of drywall, is empty space and stud walls. Behind the thicker plaster walls, with three separate layers of plaster, is a wall of lath, and then the stud walls. Tap those walls. Solid. There is nothing that beats plaster.

Fortunately for me, the walls in my apartment are all good. A little bit of patching was needed to fill holes made for electrical and other repair work, and one spot where it looks like someone took their frustrations out on a wall. My apartment was college student housing a few years ago. Rensselaer Poly Tech is right up the hill, after all. “Quantum physics, argh!” Bam – foot through the wall. I can see it.

My ceilings, though – not so good. Some past roof leakage wrecked one ceiling; others have dropped ceilings that cover up years of deferred maintenance. And some have awful acoustic tiling pasted up there. Who knows what’s underneath? So I’m going to need to replace some of them. Guess what? The purist here is probably going to use drywall.

Both plaster and drywall are used in our period homes. But his was not always so. Last time, I talked about the history of plaster and its uses in building since antiquity. By the beginning of the 20th century, the United States Gypsum Company, one of the country’s largest plaster companies, started to sell a product they called “Sheetrock.” Like Kleenex, the brand name has become the commonly used product name. (more…)