Location: charlottesville, virginia
Year Completed: 2000
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Timepiece is Parabola's live/work studio, nestled amongst historic Victorian homes in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. The project began with the discovery of a large and beautiful lot for sale—part of the grounds of a stately turn-of-the-century home originally owned by a local judge. Rather than using the full lot to build a large house near the street, we instead saw a unique opportunity in the grove of established trees in the rear of the lot: the perfect spot for a smaller home. By re-drawing property lines in collaboration with the seller, we ended up with a smaller parcel set back from the street.
Because the house sits in a preserved historic district, the design process was a balance between creating something new without detracting from the established surrounding neighborhood and following guidelines set forth by the local Board of Architectural Review. Inspired by Victorian architectural conventions without directly mimicking them, the home is a modern reinterpretation of a carriage house—nearly hidden from the street with a small 20x50' footprint that leaves the rhythm of the existing homes uninterrupted.
GENERATING FORM FROM LIGHT
As its name suggests, Timepiece functions as a sundial. A beam of sunlight focuses through an oculus and traces its way across the walls and floor of the home's northern-facing Observatory. Timepiece is oriented true solar north/south and many of the building's angles—including walls along both staircases and the parabolic curve of the north-facing roof—are determined by the movement of the sun throughout the year, from its shallowest point at the winter solstice to its steepest angle in the sky during the summer solstice.
This concept of allowing light to determine the form of a building is an extension of Parabola Principal Carrie Meinberg Burke's masters thesis work at Yale, which focused on evolving built forms from natural forces rather than human aesthetic conventions. Our design philosophy continues to be defined by the belief that theory and practice are vital to the design process in equal measure, and that theory can disrupt the engrained habits of architectural practice (and vice versa).
construction of the subject, eclipse of the object
Timepiece is, first and foremost, a setting for the occupant's lived experience. We sought to create moments of wonder within day-to-day life through the movement of light. In these moments of wonder, there is a dynamic relationship between the building and the sunlight moving through it such that the architecture itself is eclipsed by the occupant's experience of the space.
At these moments of eclipse, the occupant becomes aware of universal-scale cycles—the earth's rotation on its axis; the movement of the earth around the sun—that are often impossible to perceive.
THE UNIVERSAL EVERYDAY
Architecture is a mediator that can remind us of our relationship to nature; our experience of the built environment is necessarily informed by natural factors such as weather and sunlight.
Likewise, time itself is a natural cycle in addition to a human construct codified in our clocks and calendars. Timepiece offers harmony between natural and human experiences of time and allow for everyday routines at both the quotidian and universal scales to happen concurrently.
Because people and light are both constantly moving, Timepiece provides occupants with multiple subtly distinct qualities of light throughout the space. Although the second story of the home has an open plan, the south-facing Conservatory (containing the home's kitchen and dining) offers warmer, more direct light while the north-facing Observatory gets cooler, masked light from the oculus above. This variety and gradation of light conditions is tuned to human comfort by lowering the contrast ratio between spaces.
The project's small footprint and modest budget necessitated constant deliberation at every juncture in the design process. By questioning conventional wisdom, we created true value in the space by integrating multivalent needs. The home's north/south orientation, for example, bucks the convention of orienting buildings east/west for maximum energy efficiency through passive solar heat gain: Timepiece still reaps the benefits of passive solar without the heat gain becoming uncomfortably intense for occupants.
We came to think of Timepiece like a vessel, modeling the house after the design of a ship or a boat, where every element serves more than one purpose. Movable curtain-rods in the master bedroom pivot between window coverings and closet 'doors', while polished concrete does double-duty as a finished floor-covering material and the medium for a heated radiant slab.
Timepiece is structured with the rhythms of everyday life (and work) in mind: the bedrooms are located on ground level while living areas are located on the second and third stories to allow the best light to access areas that are occupied during the day.
The third story loft studio was originally home to Carrie Meinberg Burke's solo practice before becoming Parabola's headquarters in 2011. The rise of email and internet-enabled remote collaboration technologies allow us to practice architecture in a uniquely flexible way. 'The office' is no longer cordoned-off from the rhythms of everyday life, but rather becomes a creative mindset that is always accessible, whether one is sitting at a desk or making coffee downstairs.
Because the studio sits almost directly beneath the home's large skylight, the patterns of the sun's movement help orient us to the natural rhythms of the workday.