What Comes After the Brownstone?


A few weeks ago The New York Times ran a great piece titled “The Brownstone Revisionists,” about a growing trend that favors modernization over renovation. In the article, Constance Rosenblum writes that “it’s increasingly common to find vintage town houses sheathed in glass, aluminum and other relentlessly contemporary materials.” A far cry from the classic abodes featured in Rizzoli’s reissue of the comprehensive tome Bricks and Brownstone: The New York Row House , the hallowed homes of today are testament to the changing priorities of a city in flux.

To explore what Brownstone 3.0 could (or should) look like, we asked local architects and designers to share their thoughts on an iconic building typology of the future. From re-oriented garden blocks that give each walk-up its own mini front yard to hypothetically re-imagining the city street as one giant stoop, click through to check out ideas from eight innovative local imaginations.

PlayLab’s Big Stoop

Image credit: PlayLab, Inc.

“It’d be incredible to see the Brownstones taken over by their most iconic and public feature: the stoop. We just have to make them bigger, and we can fit more people on them. New York buildings have the opportunity to merge with public spaces in a beautiful way (and they don’t have to be empty lots).” – Archie Lee Coates IV, Principal, PlayLab, Inc.

“I’m reminded of a quotation from Daniel Burnham, [paraphrasing] ‘When will the people of a continuing democracy awaken to the fact that they can possess as a community, what they cannot as individuals.’ The future city will requiring squeezing more out of less by maximizing opportunities for public happiness. I think PlayLab nailed it with their Big Stoop — transforming a vacant lot into a public theater ripe for ongoing intervention.” — Ken Farmer, Creative Director, Nuit Blanche New York


Image credit: HWKN

“In the future, power-generating plant-life will stitch into our urban fabric the way that roads hold our neighborhoods together today. These genetically modified plants will create new opportunities for architecture and developers, too. As the bio-grid reshapes our infrastructure, city planing will bend to natural law.” — Marc Kushner, Founder, Architizer; Partner, HWKN


Image credit: Macro Micro Studio via inhabitat

“I believe in diversity and the richness that the layering of culture adds to our urban environment. The brownstone was an answer to the needs of its time, and needs have certainly changed since then. Many cities are now looking into micro-studios and other living arrangements that emphasize a collaborative and communal spirit, and trends indicate that this is the future. This will help us save resources, build sustainably, tackle issues related to aging, and densify our cities without overbuilding them.” — Matthias Hollwich, Principal, HWKN

Making Room with Micro-Lofts

Image credit: KatzChiao

“Last year I participated in a design study called ‘Making Room,’ organized by The Architectural League of NY and the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) in New York. The study was focused on envisioning the future of NYC’s housing stock from a policy and design standpoint to better accommodate the needs of contemporary New Yorkers. One way to meet these needs is to diversify the options and regulations for housing types, taking into account the needs of ‘real’ New Yorkers seeking housing — single adults, smaller families, aging populations, or multi-generational households, for example.

“Our proposal focuses on densifying the standard NYC townhouse lot, typically 20′ to 35′ wide by 100′ long, to make smaller but more affordable and desirable studio apartments. We see an opportunity to create efficient yet comfortable ‘micro-loft’ apartments that integrate shared communal spaces built around a building’s amenities. Taking inspiration from dormitories and warehouse lofts, a typology that combines affordable private space with accessible shared space could be a valuable addition to NYC’s housing stock.

“The limit to current brownstones is that they can only accommodate floor-through apartments or two apartments per floor due to having windows only in the front and back. By making a skinnier building (imagine a 5′ side lot running along the length of the building), twice the number of apartments per floor can be accommodated because they can use the side lot for light, coming in through large windows, which were not possible when many brownstones were originally built. A smaller footprint (each apartment is 232 sq. ft.) and a taller ceiling height (14.5′) makes room for a lofted mezzanine bedroom, which helps make a smaller space feel more comfortable and usable than if all of the apartment were on the same level. The addition of accessible shared spaces on different floors — such as a backyard, roof and terrace, laundry area, play space, or work area — adds larger social spaces that help build community within the building and extends domestic programs beyond the limits of each apartment.” — Terri Chiao, Principal, KatzChiao

Garden Blocks

Image credit: Jen Turner

“The current brownstone model — facade facing the street/ narrow building with light in front and back / long backyard behind — is outdated, and we should think one level above and reorganize the formal layout of the New York City block. What if two typical lots are combined, and instead three houses are built perpendicular to the street, and they each get their own patio and garden which then becomes a collective walkway and larger green space? This model would not only create new semi-public spaces apart from the street but, hopefully, foster positive interactions and shared interests amongst neighbors.” — Jen Turner, Principal, Jen Turner Studio

The Living Building

Image credit: Patrick Blanc via NOWNESS

“The next new iconic building typology in New York City should be the living building — net zero water and net zero energy. The building will generate its own energy with integrated high-efficiency sustainable systems like passive solar design, natural daylighting optimization, rain water harvesting and treatment, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Built with sustainable materials which meet and exceed the most stringent regulations, the building would be sheathed in green vines with mechanical gills to ‘breathe’ and toxin-absorbing bricks to clean the urban air around it.” — Lauren Zailyk, Designer, FXFOWLE

Smaller Structures That Reclaim the Sky

Image credit Takumi Oota via dezeen

“As to the future of the townhouse, what excite me most are structures that address the property lines — their given unit of three-dimensional space — and try to purposefully not fill the geometry with structure. This type of building philosophy is a willful un-maximization or de-square-footing of New York. Smaller structures set off the street dividing the totality of the built space into separate enclosures, breaking up the rhythm of the street and reclaiming the sky. — Robert A. Patrick, Robert A. Patrick Design