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Subterranean Studio

Charlottesville, Virginia


Type: Interior Renovation  

Size: 750 sf

Project Text

The project transformed a roughly finished ranch house basement into a clean, modern office and gallery.  Demolition removed a series of partition walls and all existing finishes including an uninspiring acoustical ceiling tile ceiling. The act opened the space up to the only source of natural light—the entrance door.  The design maximized this single source of daylight by expanding the door opening and glazing in the door. 


At 7’-0” floor to ceiling height, the space is compressed in height.  Thus, the design strategy was to play with the ceiling profiles and depths to create spatial definition.  Over the office space a custom accordion profile ceiling was creating to play with light and to break-up the expansive horizontal plane.  LED lighting is installed within coves in the ceiling to give the feeling of skylights within this subterranean space. 


Given the constraints with natural lighting, the design explores artificial lighting as a means to establish atmospheric conditions.  Lighting coves are created throughout the gallery alcove and studio and hide LED lighting that wash the walls. Reveals are exploited as an architectural strategy to emphasize form with shadow lines, but also serve as electrical coves and hide the outlets within the gallery and studio. 

The subterranean office is a study in transformation. It takes a ubiquitous suburban space, that is often overlooked or used for storage and transforms it into a contemporary productive space.  It highlights the potential latent in the spaces we typically perceive as inferior and unpleasant.    



Seth McDowell


Esteban Chavez



Seth McDowell


©mcdowellespinosa architects

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