Philly Wrap-Up 1: Split-Level House in the Street

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Fitting “contemporary” design into existing neighborhoods and development can be a tricky business, especially where the existing character is strongly defined and fairly uniform.  As new projects fill in holes in our more-developed areas of Montgomery County, designers will mount these challenges with greater and lesser success.

A good case study is the Split-Level House in Philadelphia.  Designed by local architect Qb, it has been featured in several design magazines and websites (including the fantastic archidose.org).  But seeing the buildings close-up and in context (which is often conspicuously absent in much architecture coverage) is the real test for how the design works.

So here’s the shot down 4th Street.  The height is in the right place, but I think … Continue reading

Spring Breaklyn 2010: Boerum Hill

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Over the first rainy weekend of Spring Break 2010, lads in tow we trundled up on the Amtrak to spend a few sodden days in Brooklyn.  Having only really been to Brooklyn in a couple of three-hour sittings, we looked forward to digging the scene, as it were.  Our “Nu”Hotel, situated directly across Smith Street from the famous Brooklyn House of D (at left), is on the northern end of the Boerum Hill neighborhood south of downtown Brooklyn.

The streets were lined mainly with older 3-4-story brick walk-up apartment buildings and rowhouses, with ground-floor retail on the north-south Smith Street and Court Street (with the latter moving into the adjacent Cobble Hill).

As you would expect, the shops featured a … Continue reading

NoLib on a Saturday

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Elza’s planners intution was correct. On a Saturday morning (even a cold and early one), Northern Liberties has more life.

What struck me about the space was the very fine relationship between buildings–entrances and exits are evident but not obvious, the apartments are close enough to oversee the space, but still have privacy.

This kind of deliberate use of space is the hallmark of an urban environment. In the suburbs, where land has been plentiful, it is rarely part of the design.

There’s no reason a suburban parking lot or superblock couldn’t be redeveloped with this degree of refinement, it just never seems necessary when we spend most of our time in our cars.

NoLib3: The Piazza at Schmidts

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While stumbling around the Northern Liberties neighborhood looking at all of the new development, I spied down a narrow street an apartment building with a Corbusier-meets-Mondrian facade.  As I moved in for a closer look, I was confronted with the block-sized project that is The Piazza at Schmidts.  Developed by Tower Investments, Inc., and designed (in whole or in part) by Erdy McHenry (who did Liberties Walk),  the site features an “80,000 square foot open-air plaza with free events year-round, surrounded by three new buildings including 35 artist’s studios and boutiques, four new restaurants, 500 apartments and 50,000 square feet of office space” (according to their website; see also the New York Times Article).

As you move down the street, an open-air passage leads … Continue reading

NoLib2: Getting Behind the “American Loft”

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From some angles, the American Loft building at Brown and American Streets in Philly’s Northern Liberties looks more like a competition entry than an actual building.

But the 10-story, 40-unit building, designed by Winka Dubbeldam of New York-based Archi-Tectonics,  is visually striking, with crisp detailing.

But this is an architect’s building in more ways than one: the best part of the design is to be seen around back.

Straight from the comic-book pages of the Archigram Walking City, the columns of the open parking garage look as though the building not only has rooftop views of the Delaware River, but can right well walk itself over for a float.  Wicked cool.

Walking the Walk: Philly’s Northern Liberties Taken

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As I do every year, I took off my birthday yesterday (38 Special!).  This year I drove up to Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods to check out some architecture.  A developer called “Onion Flats” has been putting up some cool contemporary constructions, and I went to investigate.  What I found was that MANY developers are working on smaller and larger sections of these older residential communities, where the module is overwhelmingly the brick rowhouse, and every other block seemed to feature a new intervention.

Enter Liberties Walk, Tower Investment‘s mixed-use development designed by local architect Erdy McHenry, features a pedestrian-only walkway that runs for 3+ blocks.  According to Plan Philly, the 4-acre site accommodates 25 galleries, restaurants, and shops … Continue reading

I’m too Cool for my House

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The Building Museum’s current exhibit, Drawing Toward Home, begins with the spidery lines of a Samuel McIntire plan of a Federal style house to be built in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1700s. The rooms aren’t labeled, but simply marked with their measurements. The single sheet is a design, a contract, and a builder’s directive.

Very quickly, the exhibit’s drawings of houses turn into drawings of home. Along with color and detail, they add emotion.

“The architect must keep his client’s enthusiasm alive and active by sending or submitting bright, jaunty little perspective sketches of his contemplate work,” wrote Benjamin Linfoot in Architectural Picture Making (1884).

The drawings are partially the ploy of an architect to keep his client engaged … Continue reading

Beyond “The Mayor”: Fenton Village Character

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On the rare occasions that the words “architectural character” and “Fenton Village” are used in the same sentence, they are usually also joined by the words “lack”, “dearth”, and “paucity” (ADMIT IT!).  (For the uninitiated, the Fenton Village is centered one block east of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, north of the train tracks.)   These exclamations are not without foundation: Silver Spring Towers, Safeway, and 8120 Fenton Street are not doing the street any favors.  Nor do the converted and expiring bungalows and four-squares suggest a Village with a unique character (cf. Forest Hills Gardens, et. al).

But the dedicated observer (thank you!) will notice that, scattered about its ten or twelve blocks, Fenton Village has many buildings … Continue reading

Urban Life

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Before moving to the DC area two years ago, I had lived in New York City for the previous 18 . Never owned a car there (or a local driver’s license!),and it wasn’t until I relocated here that I realized how effortless it was to live a pedestrian life there…Stores were abundant and usually well stocked; restaurants, museums, and galleries were everywhere (…mostly frequented by tourists that we locals had to put up with); and in general whatever you needed ), was at your disposal 24 hours a day.

It’s been a bit of a struggle for me to sustain a similar pedestrian life here. I am still coming to terms with giving up an almost zero carbon footprint … Continue reading

Project Profile: The Burnside Rocket

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Tacking onto Elza’s post on Silver Spring’s future form, I came across this building a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but think of Fenton Village. It’s cheerful, gritty, and almost certainly would feel at home in a neighborhood that already boasts an array of colors, from the similarly red Pyramid Atlantic to the tastefully pink Jackie’s Restaurant.

And while the Burnside Rocket may seem to offer little in the way of architectural distinction other than a few eccentric shutters painted by local artists (which I think are quite neat), between its crimson painted walls is a powerhouse at work. The LEED-Platinum certified structure is built both to last, approximately 300 years according to the project’s website, and operate … Continue reading