Evoking a Harlem Playfulness

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Evoking a Harlem Playfulness

Omar Ali, Jaclyn Zaborski, and Michelangelo LaTona


This is a proposal for an urban housing complex in Harlem, New York. People seem to think it’s a joke, we just think it’s cute. We’re really into puns as a form of architectural allegory.

The housing complex is made up of four courtyard buildings, sited in Harlem, New York.  We took our inspiration from Brooklyn brownstones and more specifically, the Brooklyn stoop.  By flipping the brownstone condition, the front façade and the stoop are brought to the courtyard side of the building.  We were interested in introducing a more communal courtyard space that is enhanced by enlarging the stoop and extending it throughout the entire building.  The faux-facades are an abstraction of the gated garden area common in front of most brownstones.  They are inspired by many historic homes in Brooklyn and their ancestral cousins in Amsterdam. We were primarily interested in employing a light-hearted approach to a heavy handed and standard architectural project.


Who inspires you graphically?

We were looking mostly outside of architecture at illustrations, movies, and TV shows. Some that come to mind would be Wes Anderson, Peter Judson, the Simpsons, Sesame Street, Adventure Time, and within the discipline, we looked a lot at FAT and Valerio Olgiati.


What importance does color hold?

The use of color was our way of creating individual characterizations at different scales. The façades for instance were all different colors, the interiors were individualized through color coding, and the courtyards each promoted a different color scheme. We wanted to evoke a playful and light-hearted sensibility in Harlem, which is now being gentrified and recently been wrought with standardized corporate developments.


Your drawing palette is very delicate when juxtaposed to your realistic perspective views, was this intentional and if so to what ends?

The perspectives were our take at a semi-realistic spatial representation of the project. We wanted to keep the quality of the drawings with just a touch of realism, which is why the drawings are more conceptual, and the renderings are more spatial.


What is the effect of centralising your perspective point in the photo manipulations?

One-point perspectives are always better (we’re only half joking, of course). We were looking at a lot of Wes Anderson screenshots, which are typically heavy on the graphic end, done mostly with the use of the one-point perspective. The technique achieves a flattening of space, which we were interested in throughout the different representations of the project. It also reaffirms our interest in the surface; which plays a major role in each of the photo manipulations.




Omar Ali (b. Dallas, Texas, 1989) is a designer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Dallas, Texas. Omar is currently in his final year of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. He has worked previously at MOS Architects in New York. He holds a B.A from the University of Texas at Arlington in Art and Architectural History and will graduate with his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning in May of 2015.

Jaclyn Zaborski is currently a Master of Architecture candidate at the University of Michigan, Taubman College School of Architecture and Urban Planning from where she will graduate in May 2015.  Previous to her studies at Michigan, she worked for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and was an Art History and Visual Arts double major at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Class of 2010.  Her interest lies within the built environment and design, however she is also passionate about the preservation of the past.

Michelangelo LaTona (b. Evanston, Illinois 1990) is an architectural designer based in Boston, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois. He is currently completing the final semester of his Master of Architecture degree at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He holds a BA from Boston College in Art with a concentration in hand drawing and drafting.

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