Creativity Within Constraints - Design Bureau

Perimeter Architects

Perimeter Architects

Perimeter Architects

Perimeter Architects

Creativity Within Constraints

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Designing a first home with a contractor can be tricky, especially when the contractor is an in-law. But the business-with-family relationship seems to work for brother-in-law team John Issa and John Miyares. “He is very eager to take on challenges, and our agreeable relationship means one less thing for clients to worry about,” says Issa. He is grateful for his contractor/brother-in-law’s willingness to work together to explore unconventional details, which was especially true when Issa himself became the client.

Issa tasked his Miyares with building his own home (and the offices for Perimeter) on a smaller-than-standard lot in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. The trapezoidal plot measured just 25 feet wide by 125 feet deep, including a side that at one point measures a mere five feet. Such a narrow site called for an aggressive solution to gain additional square footage.

The designers pursued an administrative adjustment to reduce side-yard setbacks in order to gain additional square footage. They also raised the house onto stilts, allowing for parking and outdoor space beneath the home. Although such spatial constraints might have given other designers headaches, Perimeter found the challenge of the site appealing. “Without constraints, there’s no problem-solving,” Issa believes. “We really enjoy the lively debate surrounding zoning requirements and building code as a catalyst to make design discoveries.” Such constraints ultimately resulted in more creative solutions. “If you have a blank slate, what are you reacting against? There were so many things to set the stage on this lot to produce an aggressive solution.”

The limited space available inside Issa’s home required it to be multi-functional, needing ample room for living, working and playing (especially for the couple’s young children). Issa and Miyares divided the space accordingly: Perimeter’s office occupies the ground floor, while Issa’s family lives on the second and third floors, which contain three bedrooms, two and a half baths and a child’s play loft. The floorplan also features a studio for Issa’s wife, photographer Ana Miyares, and a roof deck that provides the family with additional outdoor space.

Affordability played a big part in the project, and required the designers to manipulate standard materials in creative ways. The exterior of the home was covered with commercial-grade cement-board panels, and to distract from the many unsightly nails required to hang the material, Issa designed horizontal aluminum bands that also helped to break down the scale of the three-story home. He later discovered that this detail accentuated the way light danced across the facade throughout the day. Bamboo millwork and splashes of yellow paint also lend warmth to the Issa family home.

Though it may stand out among the more traditional homes on the street, Issa’s modern, mixed-use model has proven “a phenomenal success.” “[This home] allows us to demonstrate to clients that people can actually live in smaller spaces,” Issa says. Miyares, who mostly worked on traditional homes throughout his career, had thought of contemporary homes as “sterile.” However, through his collaborations with Issa and Perimeter, he gained a new appreciation for modern design. Chicago may be a fairly conservative city architecturally, but Issa’s modern Lakeview home proves that new can exist peacefully among old.

Text by Murrye Bernard
Murrye Bernard is a freelance architecture writer in New York City


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