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Ordinary, except accept

2020 | Academic

Professor Sean Canty, Harvard Graduate School of Design

In partner with Karaghen Hudson

The "Ordinary, Except" project prompts an exploration of ordinary, vernacular elements in the Cambridge area and an invitation to create an exceptional variation of such elements. In order to push the prompt further in investigating the social and societal ramifications of these ordinary elements, we chose to turn the "Ordinary, Except" into "Ordinary, Accept" by exploring what a generous exception could to the ordinary.  The program of an artist studio and residence offers the ability to explore varying degrees of public and private, work and home.

Beginning with the ordinary elements of the deck and porch, we became interested in how these elements conflate negative and positive spaces of the interior and exterior. In addition to these elements is the ramp, an integral element in making spaces approachable. The ramp became an element that integrates and occupies the porch and deck, and a tool to make an infamous typology, the triple decker, an accessible one. 

The site consists of two lots that back into one another, one off of a major traffic corridor and the other off of a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Because of this, we were interested in situating the program in a clear public-private dialogue, where one triple decker houses the private functions and the other houses the public program, with our fizzy intervention of habitable spaces and studios in between.

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The public triple decker, which houses open galleries, faces the main road and is clad in polycarbonate to denote a literal and figurative transparency to the community. Some artists' studios are also clad in polycarbonate as part of the interlocking system to promote circulation, views, and participation in the creative process. 

This interlocking system is composed of three main elements: ramp, porch, and studio. These three elements formally morph and interlock to bring the two triple deckers together.

The other triple decker on the dead-end street houses the private program, the living and study spaces for the artists in residence.

The vertical elements inherent in both the deck and porch ordinaries were articulated through a system of operable louvres along the facade.

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The louvres are full height at the porches and can pivot to provide varying levels of light, privacy, and protection from the elements, but drop to half-height along the ramps adjacent to the studios. 

It is the implementation of ramps that create a series of split levels which produce shifting studio spaces where you have interactions not only between artist and visitor, but artist and artist.

As you rise, the space in the middle of the interlocking is negotiated to create voids or additional spaces for the porch or studio. On the third floor, the two studios meet in that middle zone. 

Sitting underneath this continuous roof, we strived to envision accessibility not simply as a code requirement to check off but as a relationship and commitment to a creative and generative space that grows to the needs of its users. Therefore, accessibility grew into the design’s need for programmatic flexibility. Spaces within the intervention can become an extension of an artist’s studio, a space for collective public activities such as a painting workshop, an artist talk, or a place of retreat and leisure to name a few examples.

Our intent with the ordinary except project and the given triple deckers was to not only explore the private typology as a sort of partial public ground, but to reimagine an exclusionary architecture as a generous one. It’s not just about our bodies, but about parents with kids in strollers, and someone with bad knees, and artists moving supplies around, and having a more gracious path to do so.

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