New York-based architecture office Light and Air (L/AND/A) has recently completed the refurbishment of a 1880s Brooklyn row house using a new structural stairwell to link together the whole interior below a skylight.
The Switchback House is a new prototype for contemporary urban living that inverts and opens up the traditional row house by replacing a stacked stair with a switchback stair and inserting a dramatic skylight atop the new vertical stair volume.
While townhouses historically tend to be dark, narrow and divided spaces, with each floor visually disconnected, L/AND/A’s subtle but strategic transformation prioritizes dynamic visual connections both between floors and from the inside out. The result is a light, open, and connected experience inside a traditional row house.
The existing house in the middle of a brownstone block in Bedford Stuyvesant was rundown and dilapidated, with much of the historic interior detailing removed or destroyed. The original layout had been reworked over the years into a rooming house with multiple small apartments, eroding the original grandeur of the space.
Most of the existing infrastructure from plumbing and electrical on up needed to be fully replaced. “This was an opportunity to try something new to rethink what a townhouse in the city could be,” said architect Shane Neufeld.
Neufeld’s clever addition of a fourteen by a six-foot skylight, oriented due North/South along the building’s length, provides natural daylight throughout, illuminating each level, and eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day. The efficiency of the switchback design removes the hallway that typically links stacked stairs, creating an opening that gives adjacent rooms access to the light filtering down from above.
Constructing the switchback stair along with the large skylight required significant structural changes. Because of the stair’s increased width, a large section of the existing structure had to be removed from the floor diaphragm. In order to achieve this, three wide flange steel beams were inserted at each level, reinforcing the existing one hundred and forty-year-old joists and effectively doubling the original opening. The result is a thirty-two-foot high space visually linking all three floors.