For many of America’s cities, regulations and zoning restrictions brought about by suburban sprawl and population growth have ultimately only made much needed re-urbanization and densification harder for architects. The Ghost Houses by Curb are a perfect example of what rebuilding downtown housing can look like, and the project shows how hard it can be to navigate the design and construction approval process. Located in Knoxville, the Ghost Houses were named a winner in the 2012 National AIA Small Project Awards.
Tricia Stuth and Ted Shelton, the co-founders of the architecture firm Curb, set out almost ten years ago to renovate and rebuild three homes in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. The trick was to resurrect two homes and renovate another on a site where three homes stood over one hundred years ago. Thus, the “Ghost Houses” were born.
The design of the new homes and renovated space integrated natural cross ventilation, daylighting, and simple detailing to create these affordable ghosts. The interior color palette is full of white, dark CMU and plywood. There is elegance to this palette, while being complementary to the historic tone of the site. In reconstructions like these, the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation prohibits the design to try and emulate the past materials – rather a reconstruction must be clearly identified as a contemporary re-creation. And re-create they did.
Stuth and Shelton endured a long construction process because of a zoning law that stated there could only be one home on a parcel of property. The zoning law evolved during the wave of suburban sprawl that hit the nation in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. Downtowns began to emulate suburban zoning, even though the planning of downtown neighborhoods was never meant for be spread out on large tracts of land. Therefore, the initial answer received by this architectural pair was NO. But ultimately, it was the memory of the older houses that let the project proceed.
The end result for Curb was the renovation and reconstruction of three great homes; Stuth and Shelton’s new residence on the corner, a historically preserved rental duplex in the middle, and a new duplex on the ally with a future studio above it. This walkable, urban neighborhood is now reinvigorated to become a better residence for people working or studying in the area. The Ghost Houses and its increase in housing density is a small push to also help bring more residents to downtown Knoxville.