Passive House, Aggressive Facade: 'Ugliest House in Queens' Architect Defends Strange Design

Jeremiah Budin
Curbed New York
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[Photo via chicapoquita, via New York Shitty]

When people first noticed architect Thomas Paino's blue-white-and-gray-tiled Long Island City row house, the response was not generally positive — we, in particular, wondered if it was the "ugliest building in Queens" and compared it to a pair of blue camouflage cargo shorts (ha, good one, us). Paino, however, claims, in a New York Times profile, to have been unfazed by the criticism. "I don't really care what people say, so long as they're talking about the house and the environment," he told Matt Chaban. To be fair, the extent to which the house is environmentally friendly is admirable beyond question. Paino insulated and sealed the building to meet passive house standards, and also installed a solar-powered water heater and a planted roof. None of that really explains the facade, though.

As Paino explains it, the idea for the wacky multi-colored glass tiles came about after he was forced to raise the entire house three feet so that the lowest floor would be above the flood plane. This squashed his plans of making the facade line up with the facades of the neighboring houses, so he decided to go in the complete opposite direction and make it not resemble the neighboring houses — or any houses anywhere — at all. Apparently the tiles are meant to evoke a cloudy sky, which... sure, if he says so.

As commendable as the house's environmental sustainability is, the aesthetic concerns seem to have overshadowed that angle — the neighbors are complaining ("I would never do that [...] because I respect my neighbors," one said) and even Chaban himself couldn't help taking a potshot. ("Outside, the house looks like something dropped from the heavens. Assuming God was really into Legos.") Nonprofit group NY Passive House was also critical, saying, "I hope people will not see this and think, 'Oh, look, passive house creates unusual buildings.'"

Ultimately, this house is a good thing and its green design should be celebrated. We would all do well to remember that you can't judge a book by its cover, but... man, is that one ugly book.
· Easy on the Environment, but Not Necessarily Neighbors' Eyes [NYT]
· Could This Row House Be the Ugliest Building In Queens? [Curbed]
· Passive House coverage [Curbed]