Eleventh Avenue’s Eclectic Mix

There is a collection of four apartment/condominium buildings on 11th Avenue just south of Volunteer Park that merit special attention from architecture and landscape buffs on Capitol Hill.  While they all share fine materials, detailing, and wonderfully maintained landscapes, each has enough difference from one another – as well as from the typical Capitol Hill apartment building – that they simultaneously stand in distinction from our typical apartment flats and are yet simultaneously unified by their overall quality.

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My favorites of the four are the two southernmost. With limited exceptions on the Hill, housing inspired more by English estate homes or collegiate-gothic is rare. Certainly such novelty lends to the charm, as does their excellent craft. This ‘gothic’ pair in some ways is the inverse of the northern two; in so much as they are undoubtedly modeled after much larger buildings. There is a bit of awkwardness in evidence in this transformation of a large precedent into a smaller footprint, with the projecting rooms and cornices better suited in scale to something much larger. Yet this juxtaposition of scale lends the pair a unique character and charm as well as interior spaces – in the case of the projecting rooms – that must be surprisingly light-filled for such a relatively compact building. Even the space between the buildings is rather compact, lending another distinction from their more pastoral precedent. Combing such crisply defined intimate spaces creates a rich pedestrian  experience of both shallow and deep space, paved and landscaped, that has few rivals on the Hill.

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The third building of the quartet has its own peculiar scale, which is actually the opposite of the previous examples: here the building more resembles a single family home, but stretched to a more expansive size. An inflated Dutch colonial as it were. Instead of an entry and edge that recedes into the landscape as do the others, this building asserts its presence with pomp, its first floor raised above and accessed by a grand entry stair. It is as if the first two downplay their patrician heritage and the third elevates its prosaic roots.

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The fourth building of the group presents us with a normative Capitol Hill edifice, but one that is molded to its site in an atypical manner. Instead of being the standard rectangular box, the building skews its northern façade to follow the bend of Prospect Avenue, with its main entry being accessed through a cozy courtyard not terribly different from the spaces created by the first pair of apartments. While hardly extraordinary, these two moves combined with a lush landscape helps to unite this fourth building with the other three: few such short stretches of apartments on the Hill simultaneously feel so united in purpose, but so different and unique in their individual expression.  

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Remarkably similar to the Gothic pair, there is a bit of a loner on Broadway just north of Prospect that warrants a reference. I have always enjoyed the dignity of this building. Although rather diminutive in size, it is assertive to the street in the way of its brethren on 11th, and provides the same sort or projecting and light-filled rooms mentioned above as well as some of their historic references (note the castle-like crenellations on the roof parapet). With a little more breathing room on its southern side, one even gets the chance to see the transition from standard brick to clay tile blocks, a rarely used material in this country, but still common in Europe.  

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