THE RESIDENCES ON BEACON HILL
The residences of Beacon Hill sit on an east facing steep slope located on the Port Washington Peninsula. They comprise 40 closely spaced structures, part of a co-op, and a former bungalow colony. The colony was established 80 years ago as squatter shacks for the workers at the local sand and gravel pit. Sand and gravel made most of the concrete used for Manhattan development through the 1930’s. The owners of this particular pit discovered that they received better performance when the workers spent the weekdays living close by, and by the 1930’s the land was deeded to the squatters. Eventually after the pits were closed, the shacks, haphazardly built on multiple levels of the steep embankment, evolved into summer bungalows.
In recent history, with the rise in property values, wonderful location, quality schools, and a direct train line into Manhattan, the bungalows were purchased, torn down, and replaced with contemporary capes and salt boxes with projecting decks, posts, dangerous stairs, and a disregard for the state of the hillside. We strive to build structures which respected the slope and avoided those unused dark under deck spaces.
The local codes not only restrict home size to 1500 sq.ft., but also set a height bar located at the ridge of the original bungalow. Another difficulty includes the proximity of the adjacent structures to the south and west, some as close as 5 feet away. With the height limit, it was necessary to design and build top down, resulting in deep excavations.
Because of the many restrictions, we use an open structure for the two main levels of the homes to give the impression of higher ceilings. Typically, a steel substructure infilled with either reclaimed wood or laminated wood beams is employed. The roofs are fully developed with a green roof system which respects the views of the neighboring homes above and continues the look of the hill side. Some of the roofs have solar panels which aid greatly to the sustainable qualities of these already very insulated homes. The exterior façades are ventilated wall systems implanted with either natural Ipe wood, laminated wood, or fiber cement panels, all of which maintain the required two-hour fire rating.
As for construction, with no room to properly shore or pile, various methods have been used to insert the foundations without disturbing the already compromised adjacent structures. One of our methods used was to start the foundations from the top and pour underpinnings in sequence. Another method included pouring a series of mat slabs which cantilever out and minimize impact on the lower sections of the steep embankments.
With the local code limit on square footage, it is necessary to avoid wasted circulation. The plan layouts are typically open for the main living functions and avoid formal entries and corridors. Most spaces open into exterior decks or patios which are private and unseen by neighbors because of the plan configuration and orientation. Stairs are typically located along the along wall edges which creates circulate without interfering with plan function or disrupting views. All the units we have designed have walk out cellars which are excluded from the code footage requirement. This additional level adds the convenience of mechanical spaces, laundry, recreation, and guest spaces, as well as access to the lower exterior section of the hill which contains stairs down to the beach below.
Port Washington, New York