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West Heating Plant Housing

**Honorable Mention in NY Build’s Affordable Housing Challenge**

Washington, DC,  


Type: Adaptive Reuse, Housing

Size: 55,000 sf

Project Text

Approximately 25% of existing urban buildings in the developed world are strong enough to carry additional floors made of wood. This project proposes to reevaluate Yona Friedman’s concepts and sketches for an adaptive city that is constructed above an existing city—Ville Spatiale—and investigate how trends in mass timber construction can act to facilitate concepts of adaptability, space-frame construction, and lightness—prompting practical methods for extending a city’s existing building fabric vertically. 

The resulting design provides instructions for inhabiting the roofscape—a new ground for the world’s growing urban population.  Housing the expanding urbanity is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity today.  It is a cliche, but by 2050 7 out of 10 people on earth will live in cities and urbanization is out-pacing our ability to build safe, comfortable, affordable housing.  Too often proposed solutions show little regard for the existing framework of our cities, choosing instead to replace the old with new, at great environmental, social, and cultural cost. The challenge then, is not only to build new structures, but to build upon the existing fabric of our cities, knitting together old and new while adding density.  With this direction, architecture takes the format of an exquisite corpse, and buildings are not seen as fixed, complete products, but rather indeterminate structures that expand vertically.  


The project reveals the potential of mass timber construction as a solution for adapting existing buildings of concrete, steel or masonry with vertical additions. Engineered wood products allow designers to build taller structures that are much lighter than steel and concrete while still meeting strict criteria for fire resistance and seismic challenges.  Pairing this emerging materiality of mass timber with Friedman’s space-frame precedents generate realistic, lightweight, flexible technical solutions for building heightening.  

The project deploys a modular wood platform framing system to extend and revive the abandoned West Heating Plant in Washington DC.  This flexible system for construction establishes a light, modular building on top of an abandoned National Landmark Building.  The new construction will generate a minimum of 108 residential units to the thriving, expensive neighborhood of Georgetown.  The shifting assembly logic produces a situation that allows each resident to have exterior space and a corner window.  Intermediate levels also provide work space for the inhabitant. These intermediate infrastructural floors also provide intermediate levels for mechanical services.  The residential units fluctuate in length in order to provide a variety of domestic sizes and to maximize the exterior exposure.  The building in made of 90% wood.  Both the structural system and cladding systems incorporate engineered lumber products.  The North facade is conceived as a thermal veil and is composed of multiple layers of polycarbonate cladding in order to maintain a lightness while accepting light. 



Seth McDowell


Photography and Images:

©mcdowellespinosa architects

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