Chicago Townhouse by Alexander Gorlin Architects
Architects & Firms
No wood. No clutter. Everything white. Oh, and completely soundproof. These were some of the program requirements Alexander Gorlin, FAIA, received from his client, Robert Pollack, when he took on the project of designing a Chicago townhouse for him. “I waited a long time to have an architect design my house,” says the real-estate tax consultant and musician, “and when you wait that long, it has to have everything you want.” For Pollack, who had the deed for never-built-upon 125’-by-125’ lot in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood—a residential neighborhood of conventional detached townhouses—the goal was to live in an environment that eschewed everything he had grown up with—his parents are American Folk Art dealers who always had a lot of “stuff” around. “We had old firewood from George Washington’s time,” he says. “I wanted the opposite of that. And I wanted a house where nobody could ever tell me to turn down the music.”
Pollack went to family friend Stanley Tigerman of Chicago-based Tigerman McCurry Architects with his visions, including the idea of a master bedroom floating within a larger volume. “Stanley said ‘I could do this for you, but the architect you really need is Alexander Gorlin.’” New York City–based Gorlin, who literally wrote the book on townhouses (Creating the New American Townhouse, Rizzoli, 2005) agreed, and designed what he calls “a house for a bachelor that could be for a family—a series of floating boxes within boxes, like a modern Russian doll of glass and stone.”
Gorlin and Pollack spent two years negotiating with the City of Chicago to get the design approved. One restriction that dictated that the height of the house could be no higher than 25 feet to the bottom of the roof joists allowed the team to lower the entrance to four feet below grade, thus allowing for a three-story residence. The resulting 2,800-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bath house has its entrance located in the center of the plan. On the ground level, a loft-like double-height space contains a living area overlooking the street, a music area in the rear framing the kitchen, and an open dining area in the middle. A floating cube within the volume contains the master bedroom and bathroom, which are reached by a staircase that hugs the wall and continues up to the roof deck. Below the main level are two “children’s” bedrooms, each with its own bath, separated from the garage by a courtyard garden. Gorlin says there were structural challenges getting the cantilever just right. As Pollack attests, “The house is put together like a Swiss watch.”
As for the no wood policy, Gorlin says no problem. The team specified steel doors, stairs, and railings; Chinese limestone floors; concrete walls clad in stucco on the exterior; and aluminum framed windows throughout. Parachute cloth drapes provide a filmy separation from the outside world and suit jackets hanging on freestanding clothes racks placed in front of floor-to-ceiling windows bring added privacy to the master bedroom.
Says Pollack, “You can’t be afraid to live in a house like this. Some people might be. But for me, after a day of work, I walk into this house and my stress disappears.” Some of that relaxation Pollack says is due to his 44,000-song iPod library, which he plays at top volume through the more than 30 built-in speakers. He also plays piano and guitar, and records his music in the house. But some of his stress relief might also be due the fact that the house has begun paying for itself, as a steady stream of revenue has come through in the form of photo shoots and commercials. “It’s so fun to live here and have others appreciate the house,” he says. “And, it’s become a great business for me.”