Stephen Conte + Carolina Escobar (StudioSC)
Stepping out from the Fulton Street subway station in the heart of Brooklyn after travelling from Manhattan, you can’t help but feel you’re in an entirely different city. The gravity-defying skyscrapers of modern New York have given way to lower red brick buildings with a distinctly retro feel. Known as “brownstones”, these famous reddish-brown sandstone townhouses were built during the various waves of mass immigration to New York, particularly the Brooklyn area, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The building we look at in this article is located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s largest and most central neighbourhoods usually referred to by locals as Bed-Stuy. Lively, multi-ethnic and with plenty of atmosphere, Bed-Stuy is becoming the testing ground for many young architects looking to combine the old and the new in their future-looking projects. One such example is StudioSC, a practice based in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighbourhood not far from Bed-Stuy. “We breathe new life to old buildings for our adaptive re-use projects, while respecting their context and character, designing the new face of Brooklyn,” explains architect Stephen Conte, who was born here and knows the neighbourhood well. Together with Carolina Escobar, he leads a “small creative team” which despite its youth has already designed major award-winning projects for offices, showrooms and commercial
and residential spaces, all located in Brooklyn.
The multi-family building at 426 Tompkins Avenue, situated in a rapidly developing area of Bed-Stuy, is a new construction where “we wanted to look at the context but revisit the classic brick building in a modern vein”, explains the architect. This began with the scale of the project, which is larger than that of the brownstone townhouses but does not exceed 4 storeys in height to avoid disturbing the urban fabric of the neighbourhood. The street front side of the building has the classic texture of sandstone brick but an asymmetric arrangement of the windows (which are also present on the corners) and a large vaulted entrance that completely alter its appearance, giving it an almost metaphysical quality. The inside of the building adopts a more contemporary design in terms of both the spatial organisation, which allows ample visual permeability and plenty of light, and the choice of materials. Alongside the classic sandstone and wood, an important role is played by ceramic tile, which was chosen in its most innovative form in terms of design and technical solutions with the aim of giving the project its own more personal and above all contemporary identity (for this reason, the building won a mention in the residential category of the North American award Tile Competition 2020). So despite the spectacular double height of the entrance hall, it is the floor that immediately attracts attention and serves as the visual reference point for the project, thanks to the use of a ceramic tile with a strong personality reminiscent of the terrazzo design typical of the early twentieth-century. The chosen collection is ?I Cocci’ from Fioranese Ceramica, in the “spaccato” terrazzo version alternating with the monochromatic fine grain surface (both in a 90×90 cm square size). The same tiles are used in the sophisticated lounge area, where the terrazzo floor takes on the appearance of a large carpet and extends up the walls like wood panelling, evidencing the exceptional multifunctional qualities of ceramic tile.
The apartments themselves, almost all of which are small in size to cater for the young clients, also feature porcelain tiles in the bathrooms and shower enclosures (Refin’s Fossil collection, chosen in the colour Grey and a 60×60 cm size, replaced by the mini 10×10 cm size in the shower), as well as all the balcony floors (in this case Refin’s Wide collection in a 60×120 cm size).