Studio Twenty Seven Architecture—named in a wink to the two cofounders’ early 24-7 working habits, according to cofounder and principal-in-charge John Burke—relishes bringing community into the firm’s design process. As the studio sees it, listening to a project’s eventual neighbors allows communities to participate in creating the building they’ll ultimately live beside. Recently, the Washington, D.C.–based firm has garnered accolades for a pair of residential projects, La Casa and The Aya, which reimagine affordable housing.
“We were given a mandate to deinstitutionalize these projects,” Burke explained. The D.C. Department of Human Services asked his team to “take away that stigma, to create environments that are more than dignified and that give some joy to being there and living there,” Burke said.
At The Aya, residents expressed a preference for a taller building to retain more of its site for open space; expanding on that notion, Studio Twenty Seven incorporated green roofs within a stepped design that allowed for a mini lawn for each unit while preserving the neighborhood’s views of the Capitol.
The project and others the firm has underway are rewarding not only to their residents but also to their designers: “You’re doing stuff that affects so many people,” Burke said. “It’s not limited to one family—it’s a housing project that really changes and improves people’s lives. There’s a great feeling for us when we’re able to do that and see that.”
(Joint venture with Leo A Daly)
Incorporating the liveliness of an urban street in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, the brightly illuminated lobby of La Casa—a new permanent supportive housing facility—serves as a beacon from the nearby Metro station. “The building needs to project a sense of warmth, comfort, and home,” Burke said, which is especially important in creating a feeling of ownership for the 40 men who live there.
A charter school called upon Studio Twenty Seven to update and add to its 1925 building to befit its sustainable curriculum. Inside the historic building, careful incisions opened up parts of the layout to accommodate better circulation and illumination. An annex in the form of a metal-clad structure punctuated with pockets of bright color is scaled to the original building’s bay modules; in between old and new, a porous courtyard retains rainwater in an underground cistern.
The National Register of Historic Places–listed Chapman Stables evolved as its original owner, J. Edward Chapman, changed his business from selling coal to stabling horses to housing automobiles over a 25-year period beginning in 1906. In this residential refurbishment, Studio Twenty Seven maintained the site’s historic character while enlivening both of the building’s street frontages: “What we were bringing was life and vitality back to these alleys as well as more people into the neighborhood to be there, to watch what’s going on,” Burke said.
Completed in 2020, The Aya provides short-term affordable housing for women and children in D.C.’s Ward 6. Neighbors pushed for entries all around the building to avoid creating dead zones on its perimeter and also advocated the retention of a basement clinic as a local amenity. Responding to the neighborhood’s raised plinths—once done to reduce the risk of flooding—The Aya’s lift similarly elevates the building to the same plane as its surroundings while providing clerestory daylighting for the lower level.