Constance Rosenblum explores the ways in which the iconic New York brownstone is being rethought and redesigned, with architects such as Michael Rubin Architects, Rogers Marvel Architects and Rafael Viñoly leading the charge.
"Impeccably restored town houses still set the tone today for most brownstone neighborhoods," says Rosenblum. "But it's increasingly common to find vintage town houses sheathed in glass, aluminum and other relentlessly contemporary materials. Especially in Brooklyn, rear facades are being opened up -'blown out' is the term architects use - to provide large doses of light and air. Many of these reworkings take the form of sweeping glass rear walls, designed to transform spaces that for all their charm are typically small and dark."
So what is leading to the shift from preservation and restoration to transformation? Rosenblum credits "shifting aesthetics that include a greater respect for Modernism. 'Tastes change, and part of that change is generational,' said David Hecht, a Brooklyn architect who retrofitted his town house in Clinton Hill. 'Contemporary sensibility is more casual, more informal, more flowing. And because town houses are inherently flexible, they can accommodate these changes. It's part of the continuum of the history, not a departure but the next turn of the wheel.'"