Live/Work Balance

All photographs by Amani Willet; click to start slideshow

Henry Street, Carroll Gardens | All photographs by Amani Willet; click to start slideshow

“Live/work” today describes residences that double as workplaces for an artist or upstart entrepreneur, but in much of New York City the line of separation between living and laboring is blurry. Nowhere is that more apparent than in row houses. The city’s quintessential residential form is also home to embassies, dollar stores, and everything in between. In contrast to apartment buildings constructed with ground-floor retail in mind, row houses are built as residences and modified later on. The building type is not necessarily a natural fit for welcoming strangers off the street — row houses are narrow and strain for natural light. On the other hand, they lend character to the street and offer a surprising flexibility: a business may reside in one room, or five floors. So from Harlem’s NiLu Gifts to the Michael Werner Gallery on the Upper East Side to Ridgeway Typewriter Co. in a Bay Ridge basement, independent businesses have thrived in the city’s rows. Sometimes they break up otherwise residential streets — allowing a cup of coffee to be purchased or a church service to be attended on otherwise quiet blocks — while others form commercial districts with their own strong character.

Photographer Amani Willett headed to Brooklyn to capture places where home and business comfortably nestle against one another. On Brooklyn Heights’s Montague Street, tony brownstones filled with shops lend an upscale air to the commercial district of the city’s first suburb. (Here, a Starbucks and a Sprint store are very rare encroachments by chain stores into row houses.) In Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope, the mom-and-pop businesses fit seamlessly into the low-scale red brick and brownstone urban fabric. And, in one short stretch of an otherwise residential neighborhood on Brighton 11th Street, every row house doubles as an insurance agency, doctor’s office, or daycare — middle-class houses that happen to have offices inside. Together, these places reveal (even when we don’t look up to notice) all the ways that live and work collide.

Typecast is the Architectural League’s long-term investigation into architectural typologies that have come to be seen as outdated, stagnant, or obsolete. This year, we’re taking a hard look at the row house.

E.S.

Henry Street, Carroll Gardens

Court Street, Cobble Hill

Court Street, Cobble Hill

Henry Street, Brooklyn Heights

Henry Street, Carroll Gardens

Court Street, Cobble Hill

Seventh Avenue, Park Slope

Fifth Avenue, Park Slope

Kane Street, Cobble Hill

Henry Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights

Brighton 11th Street, Brighton Beach

Brighton 11th Street, Brighton Beach

Brighton 11th Street, Brighton Beach

Brighton 11th Street, Brighton Beach

Brighton 11th Street, Brighton Beach


Amani Willett is an artist and photographer based in Brooklyn. He received his MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts. Amani’s photographs have recently been collected in the books Street Photography Now (Thames and Hudson) and New York: In Color (Abrams), and will be included in Joel Meyerowitz’s forthcoming Bystander – A History of Street Photography (Phaidon). In print, his images have been featured in publications such as American Photography, Harper’s, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or The Architectural League of New York.



One Response to “Live/Work Balance”

  1. Christine Storry says:

    I am currently investigating the heritage value of a timber on stone building built as a single side-by-side combined residence and shop. The building was built in what was originally a residential area but is now exclusively commercial. So it is interesting to make comparisons between the phenomenon in the neighbouhoods of NY and the experience here in Australia where I am living.

    Unfortuneately the impetus for densification sometimes misses the fine grain of how neighbourhoods evolve, sometimes acting more to disrupt than to augment processes of positive change which allow continuity and the vibrancy Jane Jacobs identified and championed.

    This is not an argument against building new or higher densities, but a call for greater sensitivity in seeking to transform our environments for the better.

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