Row houses make up roughly a quarter of New York City’s residential buildings, that’s a lot of street frontage. Few New Yorkers boast about their great front yards (roof access, maybe) but row house “yards” mediate much of our experience of the city. What happens in this semi-public space between the sidewalk and the front door?
There are many ways, beyond the prototypical brownstone stoop, that the row house greets the street. The architectural style, era of development and local land use regulations all play a part, as do the occupants: when space is at premium, people are quick to re-purpose it for their needs. Some yards foster sociability, while others stake out private property and provide a barrier between the street and the home. Through trips around the city–both on foot and virtually–five common uses of row house yards were documented.
There’s the living room, where the yard serves as an extension of the domestic space of the home. In the garden, row house dwellers tend to lawns or create their own flowering oases from the concrete. The most well-worn example is the classic stoop, where residents perch and mix with passers-by. Then there’s the parking spot, often gated. Finally, there’s the nothing area, where residents may stash trash and bicycles but little else. Front of House includes line drawings of each of the five types, employing an oblique perspective to show how activities unfold in this space–and give the viewer a sense of peering into a miniature world below. The analytic distance gives a fresh lens to New York’s most stalwart residential form, making the familiar a little strange. One real-life row house from four of the five boroughs serves as the backdrop for an exploration of yard usage in these detailed composite drawings which represent a hyper-real version of a typical row house street scape, whereas accompanying photographs exemplify each of these categories out in the wild.
The digital publication invited to peer into how row house residents negotiate this semi-public zone and thus their neighbours and the city at large. The images were produced from an oblique perspective to change from plan to elevation by deepening the spatial reality of the found types.
Deep setbacks and some separation from the street are particularly conducive to making the front yard a social space, like in this block of early 20th century row houses in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Lush gardens and even traditional grass lawns can be found in places like this row on the Clason Point peninsula of the South Bronx–while in denser settings, plants and flowers in pots and trays seemingly spring from concrete.
The stoop has littered the city since the early 19th century and manifests old New York. While most common in the brownstones and limestones of Brooklyn and Manhattan, swooping stoops are found throughout the city, including on this row in Long Island City, Queens.
Since 1950, the city has (with exceptions) required off-street parking in new residential development. Garages and parking pads place the car front and center in many postwar outer borough row house developments, like this one in Rosebank, Staten Island.
Small patches of concrete at the front of the home prevail in dense neighbourhoods. The sliver out front of this row house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is mostly used for trash, a necessity in a (nearly) alley-less city.