Launch Slideshow

shell game

The transformation of this 1905 New Haven, Conn., fire station into a live, work, and play space was all about shells.

shell game

The transformation of this 1905 New Haven, Conn., fire station into a live, work, and play space was all about shells.

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    Robert Benson Photography

    Alan Organschi and Lisa Gray designed their version of a flying buttress—rendered in rough concrete—to support the basement bar's rubble walls. The bar's dropped ceiling is a continuation of the studio's plywood shell.

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    Robert Benson Photography

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    Courtesy Organschi Architecture

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    Robert Benson Photography

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    Robert Benson Photography

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    Courtesy Gray Organschi Architecture

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    Robert Benson Photography

    The birch plywood's golden tones enliven the performance space/studio's contemporary vibe.

The transformation of this 1905 New Haven, Conn., fire station into a live, work, and play space was all about shells. Architects Alan Organschi, AIA, and Lisa Gray, AIA, saved and highlighted the building's rustic exterior shell while recasting interior spaces within smooth, curvaceous plywood shells. “We tried to make the attachment of new material to the building very explicit,” Gray says, “so there's no mistaking what was there and what we added.”

Additions include a two-bedroom apartment, a performance venue/recording studio, and a bar—a real bar, open to the public. The firehouse had been empty and decaying for 40 years, but the structure was solid. The husband-and-wife architects cleared crumbling plaster off walls and the ceiling to expose raw brick and rough-hewn wood trusses throughout the top-floor apartment. Original floors were simply covered in bamboo to warm up the lofty 80-foot-deep-by-40-foot-wide volume. Whatever materials could be salvaged and reused were.

Downstairs, in the street-front lobby, arched bays big enough to drive a truck through are filled with glass. Organschi and Gray speced a steel clip system that attaches glass to brick with minimal incursions. The heart of the project—and the most complex space—lies just beyond the lobby: a 75-seat live performance space that's also a recording studio. The firm worked with acoustical engineer John Storyk, AIA, AES, to fine-tune its design for an undulating ceiling and backdrop that are precisely shaped to ensure reflection or deadening of sound waves in specific spots. “We used birch plywood to form an acoustic shell that tries to solve the distinct ideals of a recording space, which should be acoustically dead, and a performance space, which needs to be bright and have reverberation,” Organschi explains.

Back in the lobby, a big hole in the floor reveals the basement bar, which was voted New Haven's hippest watering hole. “Opening the floor lets light into that space,” Gray says. “And being able to see into the bar really draws people in.”

project: Firehouse 12, New Haven, Conn.

architect: Gray Organschi Architecture, New Haven

general contractor: Lowe Co., Branford, Conn.

acoustical engineer: Walters–Storyk Design Group, Highland, N.Y.

structural engineer: Edward Stanley Engineers, Guilford, Conn.

lighting designer: SM Lighting Design, New York City

project size: 7,014 square feet

site size: 0.08 acre

construction cost: Withheld

photography: Robert Benson Photography, except where noted