Historic Louisville architecture gets a sleek new look by de Leon & Primmer

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Brick veneer and precast concrete facade at Owsley Brown History Center in Louisville (Courtesy de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop)

The Owsley Brown II History Center is just one part of a unified campus expansion for The Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky. Located in the historic neighborhood of Old Louisville, the project reinterprets the surrounding Italianate architecture in a contemporary way. de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop (DPAW) played with proportionality, depth, and layering of materials to achieve this.

Owsley Brown History Center in Louisville (Courtesy de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop)

The building’s massing is composed of two equal volumes on the east and west of a central atrium. Both volumes are of the same height and footprint of the houses in the neighborhood. Each portion is clad with brick veneer and glass curtain wall, while the atrium facade is a frameless glass wall. A custom-fabricated metal cornice reminiscent of the Italianate-style caps the whole building.

DPAW detailed the two brick volumes based on the programmatic needs of the interior. The east portion of the building contains the archives and has an expansive north-facing glass curtain wall that allows for ample indirect daylight. On the west,  the facade articulates the fenestration with smaller openings and encloses two stacked event halls. The horizontal panel joints on the brick veneer continue the elevation lines from the surrounding context and recede as the building increases in height.

At most of the curtain wall, DPAW included curved precast concrete fins on either side of the openings. The color and striation of the concrete matches the adjacent brick paneling. These fins express the flatness of construction of brick veneer and contrast the load-bearing masonry walls of the surrounding brick buildings.

Owsley Brown History Center in Louisville (Courtesy de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop)

The atrium between the east and west volumes is a continuation of the exterior plaza leading up to the entry of the building. A frameless glass wall with spider fittings and glass fins clads the space, opening up the facade to an unimpeded view of the monumental wood-slat stairs in the interior. Drawing inspiration again from the surrounding buildings, DPAW detailed this stair as a contemporary interpretation of the older, elaborate wood staircases.

Due to its historic nature, the neighborhood’s residents met the project with initial backlash. DPAW coordinated with the city’s Landmark Commission on the design and detailing of the facade. They worked to ensure that it fit within the historic context without being a faux imitation of the existing architecture. Furthermore, the project team worked with the builders and contractors to push the envelope of standard construction and detailing to arrive at their clean facade.

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