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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

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Some Monday morning eye candy from last Friday’s Providence Journal feature on two beautiful new townhomes in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.   They were designed by Melrose Partners, who seem to do a fair amount of beautiful work.  Thanks to Larry from Providence for the tip.  Happy Monday.

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In honor of the upcoming Earth Hour on March 27, we offer a random assortment of efforts to reduce light pollution, conserve energy, and protect migratory birds by minimizing wasted photons. Learn more at the International Dark-Sky Association.

Earth Hour’s website, sponsored by WWF, has a clock counting down the seconds until March 27 at 8:30pm when everyone partaking will shut off their lights, especially exterior lights. Check out these awesome examples from last year.

A good summary of recent (and not so recent) legislative efforts in Maryland has been provided by Dr. Harold Arlen Williams, director of the Montgomery College Planetarium. In DC, City Wildlife has spearheaded a campaign to help migratory birds.

On a side note, public … Continue reading

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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.

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Here’s some inside baseball for you—planners love maps. Mention letraset and T-squares to older planners and they’ll start squirting tears for the good old days and bemoaning the cold computer line.

Maps, no matter how they’re made, have tremendous expressive potential and we planners argue long and hard about their content and style. Everyone has a different idea about land use colors, boundary lines, and north arrows.

Here’s someone else who cares about maps and I think two of them are of particular interest to planning in Montgomery County.

Entry 441 is a map of San Francisco’s privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS). Montgomery County has its share of these and master plans recommend more. Will these public amenities, negotiated … Continue reading

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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

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We have a Greek cousin who tried to explain our front lawn to his friends.

“Do they park their cars there,” they asked?  “Do they grow food, do they sit there?”

 “No, it’s just grass,” he said. “They don’t do anything with it.”

And when our Greek uncle built a little villitsa by the seashore, in true lord of the manor style, he fronted it with a lawn. But he couldn’t let the rectangular grass strip alone and planted shrubs right down the middle, a somewhat confused aesthetic.

 In Edible Estates: An Attack on the Front Lawn , Fritz Haeg unpacks the front lawn—why are we mowing instead of growing?

In various essays, landscapers, designers, and gardeners point out … Continue reading

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Last week, the County Council approved a new kind of hybrid zoning — the Commercial Residential (CR) zones. Combining traditional zoning provisions, such as use and dimensional standards and form-based provisions, such as street façade requirements and angular plane setbacks, these zones have been created to ensure : • Better predictability of allowed use, density, and height • More integrated services, residential opportunities, and public amenities • More sustainable growth patterns concentrated in existing commercial areas

The CR zones are a family of zones based on a combination of use, density, mix, and height. A zone combines these factors and will be seen on the zoning map as, for example: CR2 C1 R1.5 H60. This sequence means that any … Continue reading

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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

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — yes, THAT Goethe — is credited with describing architecture as “frozen music.”  As the snow melts away from the brightly colored and delightfully detailed Pyramid Atlantic, some of that music will be pooling for public consumption.

Sonic Circuits, an organization dedicated to providing “DC’s music and art communities with the opportunity to sample experimental and avant-garde electronic music, with an emphasis on improvisation and artistic use of new technologies,” will be holding its next performance at the center on Friday, March 19, 2010, at 8:00 pm.

Last week I saw Ms. Chen perform as part of a ten-piece improvisational group playing John Zorn’s “Cobra”, part of Baltimore’s excellent Mobtown Modern series; her contributions were … Continue reading