THE BLOG

Modern Designs for Downtown Raleigh

02/12/2015 09:50 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

The enterprising owners of the Raleigh Architecture Company, one of the North Carolina city's newest design firms, could have waited for clients to beat a path to their door.

Instead, they built a better mousetrap.

Actually, they built two -- side by side, in up-and-coming downtown Raleigh, on infill lots.

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Edenton Street Residences, Raleigh Architecture Company, (c) Raymond Goodman

"We played developer, contractor, architect, and owner on these," says firm co-owner Robby Johnston. "We planned on building one of two homes for my family, and finding a client for the other."

They may differ on the outside -- one's clad in Corten steel, the other in recycled roofing slate -- but they've got a lot more in common elsewhere.

"Conceptually they're fraternal twins, with shared but individual characteristics," says Craig Kerins, also a co-owner in the firm.

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Edenton Street Residences, Raleigh Architecture Company, (c) Raymond Goodman

The two projects were custom-designed for each family, with a shared courtyard extending to the rear.

They also share the same massing and scale, on identical footprints. They both use a common cypress from Travis Creek Wood Products in Columbia, North Carolina, and each features front and rear porches to activate outdoor spaces on lots 35 feet by 100 feet.

"It's a very urban problem to fit all that on the lot," Johnston says.

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Edenton Street Residence, Raleigh Architecture Company, (c) Raymond Goodman

Before the architects designed anything, they surveyed their neighborhood on Edenton Street, discovering a wide variety of design styles, with 90 percent of the housing stock made up of single-family homes set back 15 feet. Their new homes conform to that.

"They hold the street edge and definitely fit the scale and rhythm," Kerins says. "There's a lot of topography, with highs and lows, and they fit well into the contextual factors."

The neighbors approve -- with some commenting on the pleasing sounds of children playing in the neighborhood, not heard in 30 or 40 years.

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Edenton Street Residence, Raleigh Architecture Company, (c) Raymond Goodman

The biggest sign of their success, though, is coming in the form of commissions for new homes a block away.

"We've got three more houses, one block over on New Bern Avenue," says Johnston. "They're infill for vacant lots -- one will be finished in six weeks, and another in four months."

It seems that downtown Raleigh, once a sleepy little Southern Mecca, now owns a ravenous appetite for contemporary design.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He's also the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand," due out this spring from Routledge Press.