Two Minutes With // Voorsanger Architects

Hi everyone! We are excited to kick off this semester’s First Friday with Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, of Voorsanger Architects, based in New York City. Voorsanger Architects specializes in the design of cultural and urban space, transportation design and unique, custom residential architecture. Check out their website for more.

Images courtesy of Voorsanger Architects.

VT: We really like the Blue Ridge Residence; its elegant form even appears to have the ability to take flight. What was the driving concept of this project?

VA: The site and its landscape are transcendently bucolic. The architecture needed to participate as witness rather than antagonist. I like the idea of potential flight because it bears witness with greater intensity to the terrain, habitation and weather. And with greater transparency comes the perceptual dynamic of the seasons, the migration of mammals, and the sounds of nature.

VT: What were the challenges with the roof design?

VA: The fifth dimension of any architecture is fluctuating vertical height. These dimensions respond to the undulation of the surrounding landscape. The contractor had a very difficult time understanding the soffit profiles insisting they were ‘compound’ curves, when in fact; they are curves rotating around singular points of geometry such that all surfaces can be constructed laterally on site with tongue and groove planking.

VT: The Blue Ridge Residence’s transparent façade makes it an unmistakable reference to two icons of modernism — Mies’ Farnsworth House and Johnson’s Glass House. How did the concept allow the design to evolve into this?

VA: Transparency is not inherently a reference to Mies or Johnson. The complexity of the geometry and spatial integration distances this house from either of these models. The concept was driven ultimately by its sloping site, vistas, and the multiple layers and levels of the Owner’s program.

VT: How did you choose materials?

VA: Natural materials were chosen as a counterpoint and grounding to the total transparency of the house. A sand stone, horizontal in veining and dimension (2’x8’), was used both for the interior and exterior of the house, along with mahogany planking for the floors and ceilings. Normally ceilings would be white to spatially augment their height, but with the constant variation in ceiling dimension the natural mahogany has specificity to its grain and color articulating the geometry of the planes.

VT: And what were the ideas behind the balance of public and private spaces?

VA: Charlottesville is obviously Southern with its own sense of cultural demarcations and privacy. At the time proposing a complete ‘open plan’ was just inappropriate for this culture and the Owner’s requirements. However entertaining did broach a more open plan as regarding food preparation and dining. Kitchen, dining, and preparation all became public as their domesticity intersected with the desire for public communication.

VT: Your projects blend into their surrounding contexts nicely. How do environmental factors influence and support your design process? Do they influence at multiple levels?

VA: Environmental factors are profoundly important and without considering these issues the projects would be unbuildable. The normal considerations of material reflectivity relative to climatic zones, geothermal wells, cantilever of shading systems, and the profiling of the architecture to the topography for minimal external exposure, are all elements constantly studied.

VT: Many of your projects, such as the National WWII Museum, require an emotional understanding and connection between the occupant and the architecture. In what ways is this relationship created and applied through different spaces and buildings?

VA: For the National WW II Museum, the content has become iconic, and a national story of pride, remembrance, celebration and awe. The level of destruction, liberation and seeking of the peace, such an event precipitated, drove the emotional engagement for architecture. It needed to respond to the inherent strength of this story, and have a visible and emotional strength without intimidation. War museums are not intended to celebrate beauty but are the story of brutality, courage, and resourcefulness, recounting the tragic decisions for all sides with outcomes reverberating for decades. Celebrating this evolution is the story of the WWII Museum’s architecture, its emotion and evocative participation from designer to viewer.