Earlier this week, the New York Times published a profile on architect Thomas Paino whose gut remodel of a rowhouse in Long Island City, Queens, has garnered quite a bit of not-always-flattering attention as of late.
Sporting an mpossible-to-miss — and some would some say perfectly hideous — tiled façade done up like a cluster of pixilated clouds, Paino’s home has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the “ugliest building in Queens” per Curbed. While Matt A.V. Chaban of the Times remarks on the tropospheric qualities of the renovated building’s new flamboyant façade (“Outside, the house looks like something dropped from the heavens. Assuming God was really into Legos”), Jeremiah Budin of Curbed NY likens the blue, grey, and white patterned design to a pair of “blue camouflage cargo shorts.”
A good sport if there ever was one, Paino, who currently resides in the three-story home at 45-12 11th St. with his partner, is taking the online ribbing (Curbed NY isn’t alone) and a bit of predictable neighborly grumbles in stride. In fact, his generally attitude about the noise surrounding his home's exterior could best be summed up in three words: bring it on.
“I don’t really care what people say, so long as they’re talking about the house and the environment. That’s the whole idea,” Paino explains to the Times of the intentionally attention-grabbing design.
You see, there’s a lot more to Paino’s home than its non-conformist exterior tilework. Built in 1903, the building, dubbed by Paino as the Climate Change Rowhouse, is one of the Big Apple’s newest residences to be built/remodeled under stringent Passivhaus standards. If you’re not familiar with the German-borne, performance-based green building standard, mega-efficient passive houses consume next to no energy — around 90 percent less than traditional homes — thanks in part to super-high levels of insulation, triple-pane windows, buttoned-up building envelopes, high-efficiency appliances and lighting, energy-recovery ventilators, and other features.
Paino’s yet-to-be-certified passive house project, which cost in the mid-six figures to complete according to the Times, also incorporates solar hot water heating and a vegetation-clad roof. (Bloomberg recently published an overview of the home's sustainable bells and whistles). In a nod to post-Sandy building, Paino also elevated the entire structure three-and-a-half-feet above the flood plane to protect against future flooding.
And, yes, the tiles on the façade are made from recycled glass.
While some might not be able to move beyond the playful exterior of the Climate Change Rowhouse, Paino means business when it comes to home’s minimal environmental footprint. “Architects are on the front lines because buildings are supposed to last 50, 100 years, and they’re huge consumers of energy. There’s no more time to waste,” he explains. “You begin to ask yourself, how do you want to live and do you want to waste all these resources. America is founded on waste, so it’s not easy.”
To be clear, not everyone in the neighborhood is hating on the rowhouse’s façade.
Lifelong Long Island City resident Bob Ulino expresses his approval to the Times: “There is so much junk around here, it is nice to see someone who actually put some thought into a project, and it’s certainly a million times better than before.” Calling the renovation “refreshing,” another neighbor relays to the Times that Paino’s project has inspired him to consider energy-saving upgrades in the next remodel of his own home.
Andreas Benzinger, co-founder of nonprofit group NY Passive House, however, is quick to point out that you needn’t dress your home up in a fanciful façade to get the point across: “You can make your home look however you want. I hope people will not see this and think, ‘Oh, look, passive house creates unusual buildings.’ ”
Ken Levenson, also of NY Passive House, echoes Benzinger sentiments in an early article on the hubbub surrounding the home published in the New York Daily News: “The aesthetics of it are kind of a sideshow, in a way.”
Although the intricate tilework — “inspired in part by 18th-century Portuguese façade work” — that graces the exterior of Paino’s rowhouse isn’t personally my cup of tea, I can only give him props. Even if some of the conversation is negative, he’s also managed to get people talking — the point all along — about resiliency and renovating homes to respond to an increasingly unpredictable climate.
And it's your lucky day if you happen to be smitten by both the home's kooky façade and its energy performance: a two-bedroom unit within the Climate Change Rowhouse recently hit the rental market for a whopping $4,400 per month. While the listing is quick to call out of all the apartment's myriad high-end features, it's certainly the first listing for a luxury rental that I've stumbled across where the word "argon" appears not once but twice.
Listing photo: Elliman.com
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- Building good: Bryan Cranston unveils passive house project in Ventura