A while back I wrote about an unusual new house being built on Bird Avenue in the Elmwood Village (see post). That story garnered a predictable set of pro and con views on the radically contemporary design (mostly pro). Now we can unveil the finished product – inside and out. The new house was built on the site of a house that had burned 10 or so years ago. That house was taken down before this house was planned. The burned house was basically a carbon copy of its still existing neighbor. The new house, dubbed the “Birdhouse” by its owner as a fun play on its street address, uses the exact same footprint and similar volume of the original house on the site. It is anything but a copy.
The Birdhouse was designed to be environmentally responsible using abundant day lighting, passive heating and cooling, and active thermal mass. It also makes use of locally produced materials such as the recycled composite shingles and marine plywood on the exterior. The dramatic light filled interior is organized around a spiral path upward via an exciting bridge like stair. A clear story draws views upward while allowing light to pour in bouncing off the angular walls to filter through the structure. Windows are strategically placed to frame views for privacy creating the distinctive exterior form. A spectacular view of the nearby Richardson towers is a payoff for your climb to the 3rd floor. The interior is warm and welcoming. This is accomplished with intimate spaces, attention to detail, extensive use of birch plywood, and polished concrete. Limited use of interior partitions creates friendly open environment with intriguing vignette views to other spaces in the house.
The house was designed by architect Adam Sokol of Adam Sokol Architecture Practice PLLE (also known as ASAP building LLC). Adam notes that this house is not in a historic district so there was no pressure to build in a historic revival style. With that said the architect did not ignore his context. The house is designed by taking cues from the surrounding buildings, views, and neighborhood including neighboring roof eve heights and building volumes. Even with its aggressively contemporary form this attention to context allows the house to occupy its site in complete compatibility with its neighbors. The architect did, however, need to jump through a few city hoops to get permission for the design. Adam notes that he did not have any special or unusual difficulties getting permits from the city. He emphasizes that the entire zoning and approvals process in Buffalo, relative both to other parts of the country and to Buffalo suburbs, is extremely overcomplicated and excessively daunting. For example he had to get several variances even though the house is the same size and same use as others nearby (including the former house on the site) and that many aspects of the local zoning tend to encourage low density uses – lots of parking and sprawl in general, rather than trying to steer Buffalo toward a more sustainable future. Adam says that “For example the zoning in this district requires a 40 foot minimum lot width [much wider than this lot] and as I recall the lot was less than the minimum area as well, and then I wanted to match the setback of the adjacent house which was also less than the minimum [required by zoning]”. He says that the city did not give him a problem getting the variances but that he did have to jump through all the hoops, pay the fee, wait a few months, etc.
40 feet is very wide and unusual in the city and especially in the Elmwood village. A rule like this which forbids building in a way which matches the dense building patterns of the highly sought after Elmwood village is absurd. It is amazing that it took until now for The City to start thinking about revising laws which currently outlaw its most popular and fastest growing neighborhood. Even with its wildly different appearance and materials this house is in comparison to the surroundings, it still fits well with its neighborhood and improves the city. It should not have taken extra approvals to build. This is a great example of how form based zoning, if implemented, can work to improve the urbanism of the city without limiting creativity. From what I hear, the current zoning code is a disaster and can’t be gotten rid of fast enough. We should not need to ask for permission to do build in an urban way in the city. Congrats to Adam on a great new addition to Buffalo’s architectural tradition of innovation and great design. Can we please have another sir?
For more information on Adam Sokol Architecture Practice click here.