Designing The Third Place: A Conversation With Two Architects

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Photo Credit: Robert Stansell, Emporium Design

This is one in a series of interviews about our neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

February 24, 2013, New York: My friends Robert Stansell and Tim Welsh are two talented architects who spend a lot of time thinking deeply about the power of place. After ten years working in corporate architecture jobs and designing local watering holes together on the side, they recently struck out on their own to open Emporium Design, a design-build firm with projects under its belt including New York City establishments Ella Lounge, The Blind Barber and Gallery Bar. Over the Christmas holiday in New York, I caught up with them for the opening night of their latest creation, Boulton & Watt, a gastropub on the corner of 1st St. and Ave. A on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Robert and Tim are part-owners of the pub alongside partners Darin Rubell, Jaime Felber and chef Dave Rotter. “We love this neighborhood, and we wanted to create a bar we were proud of,” the group declares on its new website. Needless to say, I was intrigued. My fascination with the sociology of the “third place” — those spots in which we congregate beyond home and work — made me want to learn more about the process behind creating one. I believe third places that exude camaraderie and comfort are imperative in strengthening our communities, so I was eager for Robert and Tim to tell me more about what goes into designing and building an aesthetically pleasing gathering spot where the neighbors want to linger as long as possible.

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Happy Presidents’ Day From Capitol Hill

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013, Washington, DC Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

February 18, 2013, Washington, DC: The Library of Congress is one of those close-to- home landmarks I walk, bike, run and drive around regularly, but I’m ashamed to say I’d never been inside until now. But today the Main Reading Room was open to the public — photographs allowed — and that only happens twice a year, so we walked over, waited in the line and wandered inside. The architecture and history in this neighborhood is truly astounding. Happy Presidents’ Day from Capitol Hill.

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

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Home, Simplicity & Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House

“As we live and as we are, Simplicity – with a capital “S” – is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple: a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.”

-Frank Lloyd Wright

November 28, 2012, Washington, DC: I paid my first visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright house on Saturday. We just so happened to drive by the Robie House on Chicago’s South Side on a cold afternoon with time to spare. It probably won’t surprise you that I wandered inside and signed up for a tour.

What we’d signed up for, actually, was a perfectly timed reminder about simplicity on the advent of a season that quickly overflows with clutter.

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Prime City Real Estate: The Dupont Underground

Dupont Circle Metro, Washington, DC, September 2012

September 8, 2012, Washington, DC: Ascending into the light from the Dupont Circle Metro station takes time. The escalator keeps going and going, rising out of the earth in the middle of the city. What I didn’t know until recently is that it carries Metro riders up past a huge piece of prime and vacant real estate, a former underground trolley station wedged between the circle at street level and the Metro station far below. I know this comes as old news to some of you, but my fascination with the cavernous space know as the Dupont Underground is just beginning. It’s another one of these pieces of Washington history that makes me wonder what the heck I was doing for the first six years I lived here, oblivious to knowledge about my local surroundings.

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Living on DC’s Southwest Waterfront: Cecille’s Mid-Century Modern Enclave

This is one in a series featuring the places and spaces people call home. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomad.

May 31, 2012, Washington, DC: From the liveaboard community at Gangplank Marina to the mid-century modern architecture of the Tiber Island and River Park cooperative homes, Southwest DC has its own thing going on. And it’s the perfect place for Cecille Chen, a lover of history, architecture, design and modernism. Judging from her explosive involvement in the neighborhood from the moment she moved it, this is clearly what it means to find a natural and built environment that brings out the best in you.

This is what it means to be in your element.

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The City That Never Was

December 11, 2011, Washington, DC: An exhibit now on display at the National Building Museum (above) reveals how this side of the city where we live could have been different. Instead of the U.S. Capitol anchoring national attractions at the easternmost end of the Mall, federal buildings and museums could have extended along an East Mall to the Anacostia River. The historic homes in our neighborhood along what’s now East Capitol Street could have been cleared for formal landmarks; the Supreme Court could have been constructed several blocks east of its current location, closer to Lincoln Park. The lot where construction crews have just broken ground across from Eastern High School could have been accounted for with some stately building long ago.

This vision is among many maps of a city that never was, renderings of buildings that would turn out differently, and proposals that never got off the ground now on display at the National Building Museum. “Unbuilt Washington” opened just before Thanksgiving and runs through May 2012 at my favorite of Washington’s many museums.

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