Adam Sokol had a lot to consider when designing this new custom house just north of downtown Buffalo. The 29-foot-wide site has a neighboring house to its property line, and creating opportunities for views, outdoor living, and abundant interior daylighting in a region notorious for long, harsh winters presented challenges. Sokol also wanted to incorporate the historic neighborhood’s strong traditional context. With a stringent budget of less than $200 per square foot, the project resulted in some inventive design opportunities.
Having practiced in New York before moving to Buffalo to launch his own firm, asap pllc , Sokol immediately saw a way to take advantage of this urban infill setting. He placed an inverted window bay on the front elevation to capture vistas of architect H.H. Richardson’s 1870s hospital complex. “Houses in this neighborhood have this amazing view of Richardson’s towers,” Sokol says, “but no one emphasizes it or even acknowledges it.”
Sokol took great pains to offer his clients those architectural panoramas, but he also paid attention to fenestration throughout the rest of the house. Daylighting and outdoor spaces are important to the architect, as is protecting occupants’ privacy. Soaring, open interiors make the most of a few judiciously placed windows, doors, and skylights. Sokol wanted copious natural light inside to reflect the passing of time and seasons in addition to rendering artificial lights useless before sundown. “We had a digital model of the entire block,” he explains, “and we checked sunlight angles and sight line perspectives to get these precise views and quality of light inside.”
The architect also took note of how his design would affect the neighbor’s daylighting. The homeowner next door enjoyed a decade of unobstructed eastern light in her living and dining rooms because the previous house on this lot burned down. “We canted that wall back 6 degrees to improve sunlight into her house,” Sokol says. “In fact, all of the house’s angles are in response to the site.” One wall slants for the neighbor’s benefit while tilted windows deliver a view. Sokol also offset the roof ridgeline to generate more headroom for the third-floor office nook, which overlooks that calculated vista.
“I wanted the house to be contemporary, but also to fit in,” he explains. The overall shape of the house began as an outline of the previous structure and, rather than adding outdoor spaces, Sokol subtracted them to mitigate overall volume. The entry porch, carport, rear patio, and a bedroom balcony are all cut out from the building’s form. Sokol added those functional yet funky angles, but clad them in shingles—a common regional material. “For Buffalo, this is not the usual type of house design,” the architect admits, “but it appropriates the prevalent forms of the neighborhood and adapts them to a 21st-century lifestyle.”