Season 2:

Episode 30

December 14, 2021

Bushwick Townhouse with Lea Cloud of CDR Studio Architects

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In this week’s episode, I met with Lea Cloud who is a co-founder and partner of CDR Studio with Victoria Rospond. She shared with me her experience working on several projects, including working on the Bushwick townhouse in Brooklyn as well as a residential project in Snowmass, Colorado. Prior to co-founding the firm, she gained experience working at PKSB Architects where she was project architect for two New York State University projects, a library addition and renovation at the Fredonia Campus.

Lea also shares how she is able to succeed as a designer with a diverse work portfolio. Her expertise has led her to work on multiple projects in Passive House, sustainable design, architectural design, interiors and comprehensive planning. She continues to use this experience in large-scale, complex educational and commercial facilities to implement forward-thinking design solutions.

The Bushwick townhouse project in Brooklyn incorporates the concepts of connectivity and openness into its design layout. Lea also shares with us how she rethinks the role of stairs in this architectural design. Join me as we explore these topics and much more in this week’s episode of American Building.

Learn more about Lea Cloud

Lea Cloud is a co-founder and partner at CDR Studio Architects, a full-service design firm in New York. Prior to starting the firm, she was at PKSB Architects, where she had an opportunity to work on the renovation of the famous Seagram Building designed by Mies van Der Rohe, Phillip Johnson, Ely Kahn and Robert Jacobs. Lea serves along with me as a city planning commissioner in Hoboken, New Jersey. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. We will be talking about her Bushwick townhouse project in Brooklyn and more broadly about how to rethink the role of stairs in architectural design.

[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.

 Today, our guest is architect Lee cloud Lee is a co-founder and partner at CDR studio architects, a full service design firm in New York prior to starting the firm. She was at PK SB architects, where she had an opportunity to work on the renovation of the famous Seagram building that was designed by Phillip Johnson.

You like con and Robert Jacobs leave serves along with me as a city planning commissioner in Hoboken, New Jersey, she’s a graduate of the Rhode Island school of design. Uh, we will be talking about her Bushwick townhouse project in Brooklyn, and more broadly about how to rethink the role of stairs and architectural design.

Thank you so much for being here with us, Lee, delighted to be here at. Awesome. So let’s, let’s dive right in you and your business partner, Victoria met as fifth year students at Rezdy tell us about her. Well,

[00:02:15] Lea Cloud: she was probably one of the most creative people I ever met. There was not a problem she ever encountered that she didn’t want to try it.

Incredibly generous. She was one of those people who would light up a room when you, you know, she walked in and she was a huge lover of food. She could make almost anything out of food. So her love of food just exemplified her creativity. So it sort of carried over into architecture. And we did a little bit of work doing a food company before we actually got into developing an architecture.

[00:02:50] Atif Qadir: Can she recently passed away. She did. Great. Sorry. Sorry about that. My art condolences. Thank you. So tell us about the food business that

[00:02:59] Lea Cloud: you guys started. Oh, she would cater events. And so we had done a lot of during, when we were at rusty, we did a lot of competitions together. And then when we came out of school, it was during the late eighties.

And it was when there were a couple of recessions. So to make ends meet, she got into doing catering. And when she was doing catering. I was okay at the food part, but she was sometimes better. So I ran the front of house. So I did all the set up. I organized all the people and she would always do all the food and I would help with all the presentations.

So we were a really good team. We worked really well together and it got to a point where the catering business. Was competing with the work that we had together. And so at that point we had this discussion and I said, Vic, you got to choose. We got to choose one or the other, because we can’t do both.

It’s just too all consuming. And at that point it was architecture because food was just more about pleasure and architecture was more about changing the world.

[00:04:03] Atif Qadir: Okay. What’s the most remarkable, memorable dish that you guys prepared as kids.

[00:04:08] Lea Cloud: We did a really famous there’s a recipe called where you braised veal in milk, and I’m sorry, you’re you may be a vegetarian, so it might not be so attractive, but it’s a very famous Italian dish and it was made one late winter night and it was unbelievable

[00:04:26] Atif Qadir: that a spectacular.

I feel like that is so emblematic of the Schwab, the Vive that architects often have, it’s this idea of defining a problem and creating a solution, regardless of what the context actually

[00:04:41] Lea Cloud: is. I say one of the things that was always fascinating about a Vic is sometimes depending on the clients that we had, she would present a problem, like a menu.

So she would relate it literally to food and how she would solve the problem, which, you know, if you were not an architect, It’s actually at, or, you know, you’re a client going through a project. It was actually a really easy metaphor or analogy to walk through and it made it sometimes much easier for people depending on what the projects were.

[00:05:14] Atif Qadir: Okay. So maybe like a describing concrete, like it was a, like a stew with all the ingredients that go into it. Exactly.

[00:05:22] Lea Cloud: And you find the right additive to create a certain visual and to, you know, solve like textural problem, you know?

[00:05:31] Atif Qadir: I love it. I think that that’s absolutely fantastic. So you decided despite all the talents that you two had as caterers is to focus on architecture and you worked at PK SB architects for almost 12 years.

How did you know that it was eventually time to, to make that leap and start on your own as a design firm?

[00:05:51] Lea Cloud: So PKI SB offered me lots of opportunities. The interesting road there was that I was a young woman. And there were not very many women in the field and it was became very clear after being there for a long period of time, they, they did make me an associate and there was a sort of pattern at which I could rise or move up in the farm.

But it was clear at one point that I had hit the ceiling. They would never make me a partner. And there were certain limitations. They didn’t share with me certain things. So at that point I had been frustrated because I had wanted to learn the whole. And Victoria. And I had always done these competitions on the side and we’d done some projects and it just became clear that it was not going to happen.

So we decided at that point that should she get the next project that we would do it together. And the funny part was that one of the partners at PTSB recommended her for a project. And she got the project and what he didn’t realize that was that he was recommending both of us. So I had to go to him and say, you know, here’s the situation.

He was incredibly generous. And he said, kudos for you, you know? And it was. I think at the time, in retrospect, it was the best way for me to sort of leave the firm because he knew the writing was on the wall and it was a very gracious way to let me move out. And so that was, you know, we got a project doing renovation of a restaurant in, um, Wagner park.

Down at the bottom of battery park city. And it was a Rudolfo Machado building. That’s a monument still there. And we did the build-out for the restaurant tour so longer there, but that was sort of, sort of a combination of the food world and the architecture world, which was interesting.

[00:07:44] Atif Qadir: That’s absolutely fantastic.

And I think that you were able to skip over that first step, which is the renovation of your friend’s apartment or house, which is usually the first project that someone does is our own. And on that note between PK, SB and CDR studios, you have worked on a variety of asset classes and project types from a new laboratory building to the renovation of a library.

And many of our colleagues in the industry seem to be hyper hyper-focused specializing in the same type of work over and over again, project after project. How do you succeed as a designer when you’re working on a new type of.

[00:08:26] Lea Cloud: So I think w you know, one of the wonderful things about the training that we had at is you kind of view everything as a design problem, right?

So not only do you view the problem at hand, whatever the program is, but you also view the problem of how do you get work? That’s more varied. And one of the things that we thought about was we did not want to get pigeonholed into one thing. And so we learned very early that. You know, we could solve almost any problem.

I mean, we’ve, we were very confident as young designers that we could solve any problem, but we also realized that we needed to pitch our services in such a way that we showed that we could do, we could break down our tasks in such ways, depending on what the problem was that we could approach. Right. So I think that that skillset translates into how we approach problems, which is, you know, we’re very clear with clients.

We walk through the program, we do, we sort of go through each piece and walk them through, through a series of questions and, and sort of conversations. How do we get further? I think I’m being kind of circuitous in answering your question, but I think we prided ourselves on really. Being able to knit because we might not have a particular focus and fine tuned access to one type of project meant that we didn’t think about it only one way.

We thought about it in multiple ways. Right. It was just yet another problem to solve. So how do you sort of step outside of the box and think differently about each thing? If you’re not in that world only it’s easier to step outside. And say, you know, did you think about it this way? Did you think about it this way?

What about if we try this? So I think we have the ability to think about it that way. It’s also how we thought about the practice is we really wanted a, a well-rounded practice and we want to always maintain our curiosity and by doing many different things, it opened up our curiosity. So it sort of, I can relate it back to the, the world of catering in the world that.

You want the full meal? You don’t just want to focus on appetizers. You want the whole thing?

[00:10:43] Atif Qadir: I think that actually absolutely does. And I think that in a similar way, you could say that if the chef is very good, then regardless of the recipe itself, there is going to be a structure and a process to how to execute on it.

I was channeling Victoria on that answer.

[00:10:57] Lea Cloud: She would love that.

[00:10:58] Atif Qadir: Yeah. So I really want to have a chance to, to learn about this amazing project that you’re working on the Bushwick townhouse. So, uh, tell us about the neighborhood in Brooklyn, where the Bushwick townhouse is located and what’s around.

[00:11:13] Lea Cloud: Sure.

Well, first of all, you know, I didn’t know that much about Bushwick when he got it started, but it’s a, uh, you know, it’s a real working class neighborhood. It was originally founded, I think, acquired by the Dutch back in the 16 hundreds and Bushwick, literally meats into the woods, which I. Curious to find out.

And so that tells you a little bit, like it was originally farmland. And so there’s still a lot of old growth trees there, but then it went through a whole series of immigrant changes. Right. So. The Dutch had it, the Germans had it, it was brewery row. It was at one point a big theater area. And then later it’s now it’s really, I think mostly there’s a very large immigrant population there.

So I think a lot of Puerto Ricans and, uh, south Americans. So it’s very varied and that’s really wonderful. It’s a really a microcosm of New York. And in the area, particularly it’s in the Southeast of Bushwick. So further away from Manhattan and it’s on a very wide avenue. So it’s got these fabulous trees.

And then in that particular, like two or three blocks zone, there’s a series of brownstones townhouses, and there’s a community. Resource center nearby. There’s also some great little cafes that are, you know, sort of small businesses starting out. So it’s really kind of a varied area. And most of the buildings are four to five stories.

So it’s a very residential.

[00:12:45] Atif Qadir: That’s amazing. Cause I, I would imagine that when someone thinks of New York city and thinks of Brooklyn, there’s a singular vision of what that actually means. And when you’re in a place, like I wish I could have had the opportunity to visit as well. It’s not quite that way.

It’s, it’s, it’s exactly what you described. And I’m sure that that created a terrific opportunity in terms of inspiration for the work that you did. So who is the client and what was the prompt that he gave you basically, what did he want you to accomplish with your design?

[00:13:16] Lea Cloud: The client’s a wonderful client.

First of all, he’s in the medical profession, he’s a doctor. And I think he’s pretty recently out of school. I want to say like the last 10 years. So he’s a single guy is interested in lots of different things, but he came to a. Sort of secure Tousley. He had done, he was working with an architect and he decided that he wanted to do a passive house.

So he left that architect and then he found my partners in this project, uh, forum called B K a D Briggs, Knowles, architecture, and design, who I went to rusty with. And Victoria. And I went to a zoo with a long time ago and they focus on passive houses, but they are primarily in Providence because they teach at rusty also.

So he had seen a lot of their work and approach them. And then they approached us because we were, you know, we’ve done tons of work in Manhattan, in New York city. With us. So that’s a long route in, so really what he wanted was a passive house, but he also wanted a house that would allow him to grow and change.

So he comes from big, but he’s single at the moment. And the building that he bought is a two family. So. And apartment exists on two levels and then an apartment exists on two levels. So what he wanted was to change it to a one family with a single unit on the bottom. So it’s still two family, but the unit on the bottom is just one floor and has the ability to either.

Overflow for family or, uh, entertaining space, or it might be his office for a while and a media room, you know, it’s so it’s this idea that he has flexibility. So that’s the first thing that I think. In addition to the past house, the second prompt was he, it really wants the house to be very open. He wanted real connectivity and real community within the house.

He didn’t want it. Everybody would go to their own room and not come together. So he wanted that quality within the entire house, not just on like one public level. So that was kind of. One of the big prompts, he’s also a Sikh. So I assume a religious person. So he also wanted the ability to have a prayer room within the house.

So that was an unusual program. So that’s sort of the range of things that he brought to us. And he also. He’s an excellent educated client because he came with a series of images. He came with a series of words describing. So he’s just incredibly creative in a way that I found fascinating because I don’t necessarily, you know, Maybe my bias.

I didn’t associate that with somebody from the medical world. So he came with all these images. He came with words, he came with ideas and he continues to evolve those.

[00:16:14] Atif Qadir: So you mentioned one of the aspects that your client emphasized in a prompt was this idea of openness and light and air and bringing people together.

So in that line of thought, walk our listeners through the townhouse describing. How it will be once it’s completed.

[00:16:30] Lea Cloud: So from the street-level from Bushwick apnea, which is where he’s located, it looks like a three-story townhouse, right on the ground level. You would walk in. There’s a bedroom that is functioning as an office.

It’s a flexible room, so it can be an office. It can be a guest room. It can actually be opened up to the full width of the brownstone. So the brownstone is also about 16 feet wide by about 40 50. Just for context behind that is a small bathroom and a kitchen that’s wide open to a back media room. So those two rooms are open.

They flow out into a lower terrace, and then there’s a couple of steps up that go out to the yard. So it’s this very open space. There is a separate stair hall. That’s enclosed. That goes up to what we call the main townhouse, right? So the main town house is three levels and actually four levels. It has a fourth level on top.

We’ve added onto that on the main level is an open dining kitchen living space with a deck off the back. And at the kitchen level, it’s, you know, a common problem in these towns, don’t townhouses that are narrow. Is the stair oriented the long way, you know, deep into the lot, or is the stair oriented the perpendicular way?

Because it’s a narrow building. Perpendicular is often not the way to do it, but what we looked at was. Actually allowing it to be perpendicular and allowing it to wrap all the way up and making this open slot, that goes up three stories. Right? So that’s where you get this idea of connectivity, right? So you come in, you see the dining room, you’re in the kitchen.

All of a sudden you can look up. And you see this open 10 by full at 16 feet all the way up to the top. And there’s a curtain wall at the top, a storefront at the top. So there’s a lot of light coming down and through. So that’s the main level on the upper level. The next level up it’s two bedrooms. Um, with bathrooms off of that main open stair area.

And then there’s a master bedroom above that, off of that stair area. And there’s a terrace, an outside terrace off the front of the building. And then above the master bedroom suite is a prayer room. So the prayer rooms at the top, and it has a skylight and light out to the back of. So this sort of spare Periscope piece that we call it, that lets light in also functions in the sense that from any level you can come out and it’s a very light and open stair and you can see what’s going on in the house.

So it creates the sense of community and connectivity. I think that, so that was the goal. And I think we’re getting there.

[00:19:14] Atif Qadir: That sounds fantastic. And when you compare the, the goal of where you’d like to go to where the project is right now. So when you visited the building, as it is for the first time, what really stood out to you?

[00:19:26] Lea Cloud: Well, it’s, it’s a beautifully crafted it. It’s one of four. So, you know, often you see this in New York where it’s a series of brownstones, they’re all connected and they all look the same, right? So it’s a third one, a four. And what was really beautiful about it is it has this incredibly tight little stair, but it does have light from above.

And when we came to it, it had been demolished. So all we’re seeing is the wood framing within, and you’re struck by wow. They built these houses really solid and they’re really beautifully built. So we are maintaining a lot of the framing and we will reuse a lot of the floor framing. And again, that’s sort of in the goals of passive houses too, is to keep as many materials as we can and just supplement them.

So we’re minimizing the waste. And so. Uh, really lovely component to find.

[00:20:20] Atif Qadir: Were there any really beautiful historic details, like, uh, plaster medallions or, or wood paneling that you saw?

[00:20:30] Lea Cloud: Well, it was all demolished when we got there. So there really wasn’t but, uh, right. Um, because the previous generation of what he had done had gotten to that point, but what we did, one of the nice characteristics is it is one of those classically beautiful outside buildings.

Right. So it has a beautiful wide staircase. That’s all done in brownstone and it does have a vestibule. Door that has this lovely curved arch to it. So we will maintain that and use it within the house. So we’re using what we can of what.

[00:21:01] Atif Qadir: That sounds terrific. And when I renovated historic townhouse in, uh, Hoboken on Hudson street, I found that there’s this whole niche industry of retailers and salvagers that purchase, and then resell historic details that architects or developers or owners aren’t able to do.

And townhouses in Hudson county, New Jersey or Brooklyn, for example, and some of the most beautiful things that I’ve I’ve seen often are a stone mantle pieces, the entire face for a fireplace. Those are some of the most beautiful things, as well as extremely large oversize would endorse some, for example, from the Hudson street project, we sold 14 foot high curved, solid wood doors.

This stunning.

[00:21:46] Lea Cloud: Yeah, well, none of those were left in this particular instance, but I totally totally know what you’re talking about, especially in Hoboken. There’s a lot of that

[00:21:53] Atif Qadir: here. Yeah. And I think from what you’re describing is this idea of making a space open and larger. That means that unfortunately, some of those things, if they were there just don’t really fit anymore.

That’s basically what. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so you mentioned, uh, earlier BK, a D and that’s the firm that you’re partnering with on this design. So tell us about the logistics of how, how does it work when there’s two firms that are, are working together, like who is responsible for what, um, how do you like share files and things like that?

[00:22:26] Lea Cloud: So, you know, these are folks that I, or some of my closest friends and I’ve known them for a really long time. Right. So. The lovely thing is we have periodic calls on teams or we do it on zoom and we just kind of go through the process. Here’s what we’re thinking about this idea. And we each come to the table with thoughts and we do it in real.

Right. So we’ll put up ideas and we’ll talk through how to, to solve the problems or potential ways to think about things. How do we share a files? We do use Google docs quite often, and there doesn’t seem to be a complexity in terms of how we do that. It seems actually pretty straightforward. I think the way that we initially talked about the project is we would split.

They did the initial design and then we were going to execute, but because we’ve known each other for so long and because we are all designers and we pretty much work through every single part of it together. So that’s, it’s actually wonderful because it doesn’t feel hard. It doesn’t feel challenging.

It actually feels richer because each time we hit a problem where like, okay, Here’s what I’m thinking, what are you thinking? And then, you know, like everybody brings something to the table and it’s fascinating to see where it goes, how we, the logistics of we are actually filing the job. We are, we will oversee the construction.

They will come down periodically. So it seems really fluid. And I think a lot of that is the nature of our friendship. That’s helped. There’s not a lot of ego involved. It’s, you know, we want to do the best thing, the right thing for us.

[00:23:59] Atif Qadir: It’s nice to hear that they’re architects that don’t have egos or not too much.

It goes and to, is the terminology correct? Lead to say it’s called a design architect and architect of record. Are there other terms that are used for those relationships?

[00:24:13] Lea Cloud: Those are the correct terms. I would say though. Yeah. In this instance, I’m not sure it’s that clear, but yes, that’s how we initially started it.

And that’s how we’re clarifying it. Whenever we hit a problem that we are not comfortable with, we go back to our original rules. So, yeah.

[00:24:31] Atif Qadir: So I’m going to pause here to let our listeners know about one of our spectacular guests for next month. Loren Eckart is the senior vice president of design at Allergan capital group.

And she will be on to talk about. One Beverly Hills, that’s a 17 and a half acre site in the heart of you guessed it. Beverly Hills, California, this whatever kind, residential and hotel project and commercial project focuses on sustainability in all of its forms. Subscribe now at American building podcast.

So you don’t miss a single episode in season two.

Okay. So Lee, give us a primer about the codes and the rules that dictate the use, the quantity, the layout, the dimensions, all that minutia about the stairs in residential projects, like.

[00:25:23] Lea Cloud: Okay. So there’s a lot of money Isha, right. But the big overview is you got to know what code you’re filing in Manhattan.

Uh, New York is, you know, ladened with code issues. So in residential districts typically have some basic standards. In our particular situation, we were able to open a stair three floors. You probably can’t go greater than three floors, right? In a multi-family you have to have two means of egress. We have two means of egress for each of the units, right.

[00:25:53] Atif Qadir: And Negress means basically ability to leave for that sort of grips means, correct.

[00:25:58] Lea Cloud: It means the ability to exit in the, in a life safety issue. So if there’s a fire or there’s an emergency, you can get out to different. The next, I think thing to think about is residential stairs typically have to be at least 36 inches wide, right?

So three feet wide. That’s a standard. There is a sort of standard code rule of the dimensions of the stairs, right? So the rise of the stair is the vertical component and the horizontal is the. So in New York city it’s, if you take the addition of two risers plus one tread, it cannot be greater, cannot be less than 25 and a half inches.

So that’s an important thing to understand. So you think about seven by 11, right? Which is a standard stair dimension, seven inches high by 11 inches deep. So it’s 14 and 11 it’s twenty-five. So it can’t be less than 25 and a half. So you got to get another half inch in there, right? So that’s kind of a rule of thumb treads, have a minimum depth of nine inches.

Which if you’ve ever gone up a really steep stair, you know what that feels like? It’s very limiting risers that can be between four inches high and eight. And. Like, that’s a really big variation in terms of how you move through a stair. So, and then there are certain like tolerance levels between how, from, if you’re going from floor one to two and then floor two to three, you can’t make them too different.

So the stairs wanted to have to be, I think it’s like three eighths inch difference in terms of height, you can’t make them. And then in a residential stair, you can actually have a hand rail at three feet wide. You can have hand rail only on one side often, and you’ll see this in most townhouses. Right?

You have that main ballast draw, but you don’t have our handrail on the outside. Right. So that’s kind of like the basic rules of thumb and. Obviously, when you’re doing a house you’re really conscious of, or any kind of a building the floor to floor Heights and the differences in Florida floor Heights.

So in a lot of these townhouses, the parlor level was always much taller than the bedroom levels or the lower level. In fact, because often the lower level was, uh, a service level as well. So getting your stairs to work. Yeah. In all of those aspects is always a challenge. And then you can only have so much length of stare before you have to introduce the landing.

Right? So like, those are all, it all sounds easy when you think about one thing, but when you have to pull them all together, It’s often this jigsaw puzzle of, okay. I took a quarter inch out of here, but I got to meet this, you know? So you’re always doing this until you get it. Exactly. Right. And then you have to work backwards and go into the design that you’re trying to get to.

Right. So how do you make that all come together? That’s kind of a quick overview.

[00:28:57] Atif Qadir: There’s a lot going on there. And I think that was a fantastic summary. Taking a bird’s-eye perspective of this is the, the idea for such a wide range is to accommodate the fact that if you have someone that’s five foot tall versus they’re six and a half foot tall, that there’s a very different experiences.

Is that the reasoning for such a wide range for things?

[00:29:17] Lea Cloud: I think it’s actually both from the experiential side. From a code perspective. It’s probably both from the experiential side of, you know, size of people, but it’s also to be, uh, allow for variation and construction. Right. So it’s trying to marry it depending on what the situation is.

And it’s true. I mean, as an architect, you know, this, you know, you go to. Buildings. And you can feel the difference. If you’re in a stair, that’s more landscape oriented, it’s very low and shallow and you feel like you’re just walking really fluidly versus a steep house. You know, it’s a struggle to go up the stairs, right?

So there’s a whole experiential level. That’s involved in how you want to think about the stair and what you want to achieve.

[00:30:03] Atif Qadir: Got it. I would imagine in the case of when you’re renovating or redeveloping, or you have certain constraints physically around which you must work. So that flexibility allows for you to build within the constraints that are there.

That that makes a lot of sense then. Absolutely. Yep. So you mentioned earlier when you were walking the listeners through. The townhouse as it will be completed, what a intrinsic role, the staircase and the stairwell overall plays in terms of the feeling of openness in the design. Tell us more about the details of what’s going on with this stairs.

Like for example, connecting what you just talked about in terms of the codes to how that actually informed your final design for the staircase and some of the materials that you chose in order to be able to get that final vision, that the thing that you wanted the client to be able to.

[00:30:53] Lea Cloud: So, as I mentioned earlier, you know, when you have a narrow a lot, right.

At 16 feet wide and it’s 40 feet long. So, you know, sort of the natural predilection is to go the long way with the stair because of the distance of the stairs. But because we wanted to create this, almost this interior room of light, we flipped it the other direction. Right. So that gave us a certain amount of limitation.

Right. We knew that. We had so many stairs we had to fit in and we had to flip it the other way. So we then thought about what is the experience of, of actually passing through that space? So what we did was from the parlor level to the first bedroom level, there is a limitation. I mean, it is a certain height that’s different than the upper levels, right?

So we were able to fit the stairs on the upper levels, on the narrow side, on the 16 foot. Right with landings between, but on the Parlo level, because of the height we had additional stair. So we both transverse, we go across the 16 foot. Then we come down a long distance and then we turn it. So we make a more public piece.

At the lower at the parlor level, we make it more like a series of stairs that you could sit on. That’s actually part of the living room and it creates more of an experience about the stair and we’ve integrated a piece of cabinetry into it. So it feels like it’s much more than just a passageway. And then the other things that we thought a lot about was because as I mentioned on the upper level, we do have the storefront of glazing and we are trying to bring a light, a lot of the challenges of townhouses like this when they’re deep is there’s not a lot of light on the interior, right?

So that was also a real key component of developing the stair this way. So we have a storefront of full glass wall at the top level.

[00:32:50] Atif Qadir: Is that where

[00:32:50] Lea Cloud: the prayer room is? It’s actually on the master level, there’s just one bedroom. There’s the stair. And then there’s an outside terrace. So at the outside terrace, we pulled up a full storefront.

So there’s about us 15 foot glass wall here because we added the level of the prayer room onto that building. Right. So you’ve got this, you know, 15, 16, Hi glass wall. And we wanted to bring that down through the upper three stories. Right? So that was a really critical part of the stair design. So when we looked at the materials of the stairs, We were really conscious of not wanting them to be too heavy of wanting them to allow light, to pass through of wanting them to be true to the structure of the building.

So we did a series of designs where we thought through. Okay. How do we, you know, what supports a stair is typically called a stringer. It’s a beam, that’s a diagonal beam that supports the stair. And that’s what makes your stair habits certain thickness. Right? And we wanted to make sure that our stringers were either not visible.

Or they were integrated into the stair. The way the stair was designed was such that its structure was able to handle itself on its own. So after lots of testing, we’ve gone to the point where we are now most of the upper level stairs, all steel plate. So it’s a very thin steel plate. So you can imagine there’s not a lot of structure to it because the structure is all been buried in the.

So it’s very lightweight, so more light can pass through. And then the handrails were another big component because. The sides of the stair, which you have to enclose so that nobody can fall out, could be solid. And we didn’t really want them to be glass because it was too hard and modern and didn’t feel warm enough for this particular residence.

So what we’re investigating is using a perforated metal, so very lightweight metal that’s perforated so that all the light can come through. And what’s beautiful about that. Yeah. You know, over the changing day and the light, you get all of these different patterns. And so you, you experience the day as it changes as you’re moving through the stair.

So your experience at night is very different than your experience a day. So what we’ve done right now is it’s steel plate. It’s got this perforated side rail, and then because the steel as a tread to walk on is kind of cool and could have a lot of sound. We wanted to warm it up. So right now we’ve got a wood tread on that.

So then it’s connected to all the wood floors and you feel this continuity of all of the floors, but when you look up from below, you just get this very lightweight sculptural steel plate. So that’s where we are

[00:35:38] Atif Qadir: now. That’s really fascinating because I think the easy answer would be, oh, it’s going to be a metal stair and have this be completely different than what’s surrounded.

And I think that’s clever to use a similar type of floor material to connect with the actual floors themselves. Yeah. So natural light is a lot of what is influencing this, but tell us about nighttime. So tell us about the lighting that you have chosen in terms of the light fixtures that will continue this idea of continuity at.

[00:36:07] Lea Cloud: A really good question. Okay. So there’s other, a couple of other components within this stair that I haven’t articulated so much about. Um, which is that on one? So I’ve talked about the perpendicular, right? So the perpendicular meaning the 16 foot wide dimension. So the stairs are, are moving up that 16 foot.

Dimension on one side of that, we pulled a full wall of cabinetry that goes the full three or four stories, right? So that cabinetry holds a lot of functional pieces at the lower levels of the kitchen. You know, it’s closets for utilities as you go up. And then there’s an, a little open bar on the top. But because of that, what we’ve done is we are washing that wall with light and we’re working with a fabulous lighting designer.

Do a quick pitch for a Derek Porter and he was at Parsons. And he’s what we’ve done is that cabinetry wall is not only at the stairs, but it extends into both bedrooms on the bedroom levels. So that. Again, it creates this context of the whole building because when the doors are open to the bedrooms, it’s all washed with lights.

So you feel that as one bigger figure in this whole house. Right? So because we have this wash of light on the cabinetry wall, and then on the other wall opposite, we are developing. Uh, tile that is sort of connected to the idea of the brownstone of the brick of the building, but that is articulated in such a way, because of the way the texture is being developed, it will push the light down.

So the experience you can imagine over the day, The large glass window that I was describing is really on the south. It’s more to the Southeast. And so there’ll be a lot of morning light that will completely wash that space. So there will be no need for any electric light. So over the day, and depending on whether you’re in the winter or the summer over the day, that light will move to the west and you’ll have a very different experience, right?

So that over the day you’ll get all the shadow fabulous shadow. And then as the evening comes on, The electric light will wash the cabinetry wall and you’ll get this reflected light back from the cabinetry wall and a little bit of reflected light from a tile wall. So you’ll have a very different that stairwell become a little bit moodier.

It will still have a lot of ambient light from those electric lights, but it won’t be such a big feature. You won’t see so much light coursing through the building, but there still be the sense of continuity and connection across the spaces.

[00:38:49] Atif Qadir: That’s fantastic because I can imagine that at nighttime clear sky, the lights on that, this feature, the sculptural element of the house, which is this staircase really comes alive on its own as well.

And that that experience will probably be different during the morning, as well as the nighttime. Have you guys done any renderings or imagined the way that that would look before.

[00:39:13] Lea Cloud: We have we do, we actually have done a lot of those. We do a lot of three-dimensional modeling and we do do some studies and because it’s really critical, we’re trying to figure out how much, you know, as you probably know, from passive house, you’re constantly trying to balance the amount of heat gains.

In the building and making sure that you’re okay. So we’ve done a lot of light studies. We’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to do some planting on that upper terrace to shade that large window. We may do some mechanized shading devices there to minimize the heat gain. So we’re in the process of doing that on a regular basis as we move through.

[00:39:46] Atif Qadir: That’s excellent. Actually, earlier this season architect, uh, Jenny paisan of Jenny pace and architecture, we had a chance to talk to her and her whole episode focused on the fundamentals of a passive house. So if, and the listeners are interested in getting a primary of understanding that you can check that episode from earlier this season.

So Lee, you did another residential project that prominently features stairs, and that one is in. Oh, fabulous. Snowmass, Colorado. So tell us about

[00:40:15] Lea Cloud: that. It was a really different project, very steep site, 60 degrees site, and the house was, was an existing structure, but we ended up rebuilt basically building it back up from scratch because it was in such bad condition.

And again, because the client wanted a pretty, it was a pretty large program. What we did was we use the stair and because it was such a steep site, the stair became almost like parts of the topography. So you move through the house like typography. So at one, at the big level where you walked in, it was again, a very light steel stair, so that you had this big, large open public space.

But as you move through, It’s carved into the structure. So it was almost a solid wood stairs as if you were carving into the ground. So what was wonderful about that was we were able to create really different experiences. So it was a very on the upper levels. It was very public and that was really inline with what the pub the client wanted.

It was a very public space. She did, she was part of the Aspen music festival. She had big events there, et cetera. But as you move down into the more private levels you had these. And so at that point at the public level, you could see out this great Vista to the mountains beyond. So you had a connection in a really large world way, you know, both to the mountains, to this big public space, but then as you moved through your steps, Focused you on windows that actually focused on smaller connections to the landscape.

So again, it changed the scale. It changed your experience. It changed your connection to the site. So that was a constant theme in that project where we were making the stair move through the site, like you would actually move down the hill and. Creating connection to the landscape in ways that we varied and created an experience of the site from within the house.

Because as you know, the, the climate is pretty severe. So you had these different experiences. You know, we had, uh, a little bridge with a telescope off one. We had this little mosque garden off the other, you know, so there was this constant change and carving into the site. So it was a really completely different way of approaching.

[00:42:33] Atif Qadir: What’s really fascinating is that even though that, uh, an architect might be starting with the same point of view of the codes and the legal basis for how to design a staircase, when you have a truly exceptional architect, you could take that and make something that is literally a sculpture on its own, as opposed to just a perfunctory means of getting from one level to two.

[00:42:55] Lea Cloud: Absolutely. I think another project it’s sort of the opposite extreme is I think we’ve done a lot of public work for, or big commercial projects for Audi. And in those instances, right, we’ve done these vast show rooms that can be 30,000 square feet, large. You have a stair that has to get you from one level to the other.

So in that instance, the stairs. Takes on this completely different role where it’s almost ceremonial, right? It’s the ceremony. How, how you go from one floor to the other you’re on view as you move up through the stair, it’s also a sculptural idea, right? Because it’s the only, because it’s just this big flat wide open showroom.

It’s the only architectural component in it. Besides the cars and the whole purpose is to show off the vehicles because that’s, that’s what they sell. That’s how it is. Right. So, but you’re also allowing the customer to feel sort of elevated and special and on view. And they are just as beautiful as the objects that they’re looking at, you know?

So it takes on a whole different quality. And that’s the wonderful thing about stairs is they, you can use them to define. What it is that you want the program to say, but you could also give it back to the people who are experiencing it so they can take on so many different things.

[00:44:19] Atif Qadir: I think that that’s so fascinating because we started the episode talking about the incredible perspective that architects have about being able to define a problem.

Then create a solution to. The reality often is, is that the same situation might have multiple different problems that need to be solved. And it’s one beautiful solution that can tie them all together. Like an example of this staircase and the Audi project that you, that you just talked.

So thank you so much for joining us today on the American building podcast.

If you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen.

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 Finally, we live in the richest country and the history of humankind. We must reach out beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and communities today.

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