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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Love Letter to Home

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“My space reflects the life I’ve lived so far, and it’s filled with stuff that has been with me for years, stuff that reminds me of where I’ve traveled, who I’ve loved, and where I want to go next.” -Nate Berkus

February 23, 2013, Washington, DC: Our home reminds me of travel, partly due to the things we’ve brought with us but also due to its bones, its structure and its details. I see New Orleans in the back alley from a narrow, second-story balcony abutting the next and feel cross breezes coming off San Francisco Bay through the high windows that swing open above the apartment’s inner door frames. Its imperfect hardwood floors and outdated stove and big old window that needs a book wedged in to stay open in spring are fit for a beach cottage. Walking out the front door to pick up cheese or yogurt or meat around the corner at Eastern Market is a routine that feels a bit Parisian.

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Bringing Home The Solar Decathlon

September 26, 2011, Washington, DC: Imagine a neighborhood where one home after the next is thoughtfully designed to minimize its impact on the environment. Where every house is affordable and innovative. Where houses are built from sustainable materials, like wood harvested from the local forest, or out of old shipping containers that were going to waste.

Imagine a neighborhood where people grow veggies and herbs on their decks and in their kitchens, where solar panels and green plants grace their roofs, where homes are designed to feel cool in the heat and warm in the cold without paying massive energy bills.

Imagine living in a home that produces as much or more energy than it consumes each year. In other words, imagine a neighborhood that gives back more than it takes.

Now through October 2, this neighborhood exists in Washington, DC’s West Potomac Park, home of the Solar Decathlon 2011.

Get tips for bringing elements of the Solar Decathlon home to your neighborhood and see more photos after the jump…

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