In 2014 OPA completed the conversion of a 1920’s cast concrete garage to residential lofts. That year, the owner of Vortex bought an unfinished unit and hired OPA to design a loft that ‘looks to the future’ within the historic building shell.

Designing a loft in a historic building offers a good opportunity to stage a contrast between old and new. But what is new? For us, the future of architecture is dynamic, complex, and changeable. We want spaces that unfold and transform as we move through them. We want space that reflects and responds to patterns of movement and calm, combined with fluid forms that change scale and character with ease.

The owner asked for an open plan with no internal boundaries, but also wanted the entry to be buffered from the public lobby. We looked for a strategy to develop a fluid interior that could change size from an intimate enfolding chamber to a monumental cavern. The existing loft with its heavy concrete and layered patina of use offered a romantic industrial shell which we reinforced with robust seismic braces. A perfect backdrop for a new way of living, and lots of empty space. We decided to swirl it. We imagined a vortex located near the entry. The vortex pulls the new walls lining the loft into an eddy of space, creating an intimate vestibule. Here, just inside the door, the whirling tightens then opens overhead, offering a glimpse of the existing concrete ceiling. As one moves past the vortex, the swirling effect gradually diminishes, eventually easing to single large folds that ultimately dissipate into the existing rectilinear perimeter walls. The living room and study are calm and grand, while the more private rooms are more complex and informal. Folds near the center of the vortex reflect its intensity as knife edges, with the sharpness decreasing the further one moves from the center of rotation. Vortex combines familiar regular forms with more dynamic elements that suggest motion and spinning. The new walls are folded and pinched as necessary to make space, as if the entire surface of the new interior is made of a single sheet of folded paper.

LOCATION: San Francisco, California

PROGRAM: 1,950 sf apartment

Katya Tylevich, 'OPA Takes Cues From the Disparate Qualities of Daily Existence,' Mark 67, Frame Publishers, Amsterdam, April/May 2017, pp. 83-101