By Carolyn Weber Michael Caito remembers when he'd drive past the wooded area that linked Cleveland's Little Italy and Cleveland Heights neighborhoods. He couldn't imagine that anything could ever be built on the sliver of steep hillside. But when his firm, City Architecture, was tapped to design a project for the site, Caito and firm principal Paul Volpe rose to the challenge.

The result is nine bold, unconventional townhomes that are the talk of the marketplace. Volpe, whose expertise is in city planning and urban design, had a special interest in the project because he planned to live at Edgehill. He wanted to employ crisp modern architecture but nothing too wild in this conservative market accustomed to colonials and tudors. "We used four different brick colors that relate to colors seen throughout Little Italy," says Caito, of the color mix that sets off the individual units and also lightens the mass of the building.

Fiber cement siding was introduced on the stair towers and window bays and continues on the sides and back of the units. "We used it for the durability because of the high-wind hillside location," explains Caito.

Because steep conditions made the rear inaccessible, all of the units' two-car garages are front-loaded. To reduce the impact, the garages are recessed into the front faccedil;ade, 18 feet from the edge of the sidewalk, which allows for two guest spaces in the driveway.

Photo: Infinity Studio Photography

Cantilevered second-floor bays cast shadows over the garages, and canopies suspended over front doors create another layer of interest. The canopies are constructed of painted steel topped with a clear, corrugated plastic called Lexan. "Because the canopy has no columns, it keeps the faccedil;ade light and doesn't clutter it," says Caito. A front entrance court with a low brick wall adds individuality to the units and also provides a barrier from the street. The units were pre-sold from marketing drawings, and each buyer customized the plans. Almost half flipped the layouts, putting the living areas on the third floor to take advantage of views and extra entertaining space on the rooftop terrace. To age in place, four of the empty-nest buyers opted for elevators.

Category: Townhomes, greater than 2,000 square feet; Entrant/Architect/Land Planner/Landscape Architect: City Architecture, Cleveland; Builder: Snavely Construction, Willoughby, Ohio; Developer: Edgehill Development, Cleveland

Stable Condition

Supporting and stabilizing the townhomes on a steep slope was a major challenge. "It required a lot of geo-technical work," says architect Paul Volpe. Along with a huge retaining wall to hold the hillside, structural engineers Leinweber and Associates devised a system of reinforced concrete caissons driven 60 feet into the ground topped by a structural steel platform with precast concrete planks. A concrete slab was poured over the planks for the garages and driveways, but the rest of the building is standard wood frame construction. "We had doubts not just about the structural aspect but about whether we could we do it affordably," Volpe says. The developer, Edgehill Development, sunk a quarter of a million dollars into the foundation and superstructure and had to continually increase sales prices.

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