Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In-depth: Clure Project in Duluth
In November, we announced the AIA Minnesota Honor Award winners for 2007. We included photos of all of the winning projects, except one: Clure Project in Duluth, by Samela Architects. We're going to rectify that today with several photos of this breathtaking project, which I had the opportunity to visit a couple of summers ago. I'd interviewed the architect, David Salmela, several months previously and was driving back from a North Shore vacation when I decided to show my wife this super cool trio of houses Salmela had designed on a rocky cliff overlooking downtown Duluth and Lake Superior. I couldn't really remember where it was, so we zigged and zagged through the circuitous streets of Duluth before finally locating the houses. After stepping out of the car and tiptoeing our way to the edge of the driveway, I began pointing out specific details of the project to my wife when Gladys Salmela (David's wife) invited us inside their home for a closer look. Since our visit was impromptu, this was totally unexpected and quite kind!

Anyway, David Salmela writes that the Clure Project"recycles a small pocket neighborhood in an area of Duluth that has historic, tragic and neglected significance."

Here's David Salmela's history of the site and details of the project, as excerpted from his AIA Honor Award application: "From 1891 until 1939, an incline rail system operated in the right of way of a local city avenue as a means for citizens to climb the 509 feet to the top of the ridge. The raised rail system that cut through the Canadian Shield was abandoned in September of 1939 after the end of streetcar service in the rest of the city. Three 100 year old houses that had flanked the Incline remained on this idyllic setting till now. Over 15 years ago, our client purchased a large vacant parcel of land adjacent to the right of way the Incline had previously occupied. They built a two family house for themselves & one set of parents. Over the next years, they managed to purchase an additional parcel of land and the three old houses, all of which were accessed by a semi-private half-street. With the unfortunate passing of their parents our clients were left with a house that was too large for them, and the idea to redevelop the adjoining properties in a progressive sustainable urban statement was born.

"The three houses were demolished with the intension of replacing them with three new houses. After numerous interactions with the city, a new plan was approved that involved burying all telephone & utility lines, the combining of certain parcels of land, the vacation of a
avenue (that which had been the right of way for the Incline) to make it a build-able piece of land, the re-planning of road access coming in to each property, and the ultimate reconfiguring of the plats of each property. The previous homes had been situated based on a standard city grid facing the avenue -- the new houses were placed in response to the elevation shifts in the site and to take advantage of the visual corridors to the lake, the harbor and surrounding vistas, while also fulfilling tight restrictionsof setbacks and easements. The planning of the interior spaces within each home take these same issues into consideration: maximizing natural light and views of the surrounding areas, while assuring necessary privacy given the proximity of the houses to each other and their neighbors.

"Construction was completed with little disruption of land or vegetation. In two of the houses this meant that portions the ledge rock are visible and present on the interiors. The size and formal vocabulary of the new homes was developed based on the pragmatics and economy of construction. One house has less than 2000 S.F. of living space and the second and third houses less than 3000 S.F. All were built for $180 to $230 per S.F. (including landscaping.)

"Each house was designed to be sustainable with high-efficiency mechanical systems and smart planning that allows for passive solar heating & natural ventilation through operable windows on all sides of the houses and strategic placement of decks, exterior stairways and screens. A conscious attempt was made to use local and recycled materials as much as possible. All buildings are clad in a monolithic recycled paper-resin composite that is sourced locally and a mix of recycled, aging & standard wood on the remaining exterior for practicality as well as design balance.

"Plat-lines were reconfigured for each property in this project, yet the land is treated in a way that unifies 4 houses (the client’s original adjoining house is presently beingrenovated in the same sustainable attitude) to make them feel a part of something larger than their own property. Local stone from near by taconite mines make up the dry laid retaining walls at the street areas that define yards as much as they connect one house to the next. Excavated rock was used at the remaining steep slopes and local crushed granite landscapes the difficult transition surfaces at garages, terraces & parking areas.

"This project not only revitalizes a small pocket-neighborhood, it very boldly expresses its pleasure to be a part of its larger neighborhood. Our clients understood the importance of making the project a multiple house/family project that embraces the density of its urban setting, rather than creating one large house that claims several lots as its own. It expresses a fresh way of living in a community that masterfully balances individual privacy and common areas that foster neighbor-ship.

"For this picturesque city situated on a large body of water, it offers an example of how to respect both the views and the land, while being responsible, sustainable and modest." (Photos by Peter Bastianelli Kerze)

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