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Project Progress: 1627 Brandywine

We're getting excited about this project--1627 Brandywine Street in Philadelphia. The building was originally a carriage house. More recently, it was used for storage. Now, we're working with the new owner to convert it to a home and studio.

The existing front.

The existing front.

The first floor will contain a garage and photography studio, with living space above. We really want to take advantage of the huge wooden roof trusses, so they'll stay exposed in the finished space. The front is in amazing condition; it's made of yellow-orange ironspot roman brick, with incredibly thin joints and great workmanship.

A detail of the oval window; look at how carefully the bricks were cut to fit it.

A detail of the oval window; look at how carefully the bricks were cut to fit it.

Carriages used to be stored in here; the large roof trusses also hold up the second floor, so that the first floor could be totally open. There's evidence that at one time there was an elevator (manually operated, of course) that could lift carriages up to the second level.

Carriages used to be stored in here; the large roof trusses also hold up the second floor, so that the first floor could be totally open. There's evidence that at one time there was an elevator (manually operated, of course) that could lift carriages up to the second level.

The second floor; the steel rods coming down from the trusses hold the floor up.

The second floor; the steel rods coming down from the trusses hold the floor up.

Some images of the proposed space.

Some images of the proposed space.

We'll keep you posted on this one. As we finish preliminary design, we're getting ready to meet with the neighbors, and then with the Historical Commission

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Parish House Opening

You've seen us write a lot about our Parish House project in the past, especially on social media. Well, the first two units are finally finished!

This building started out as part of a larger parcel, originally containing a church, a rowhouse, and the church's parish house, where events such as wedding receptions, performances, and classes took place. 

The overall site is marked in blue; individual buildings in red.

The overall site is marked in blue; individual buildings in red.

When we started on the project, the first thing to do was to decide how to handle all of these buildings that were sharing one lot. The client, Red Oak Development, wanted to subdivide the land so that each building would be on a separate parcel. Ultimately, we ended up dividing it into eight pieces: one for the church, one for the existing rowhouse, one vacant lot, and five separate lots under the parish house. The church, which was in bad disrepair, was sold to another developer, who ultimately decided to demolish it and build several rowhouses. The existing rowhouse was renovated and sold, and we designed a new rowhouse on the empty lot. 

The biggest challenge, though, was the parish house. This was a large stone building, built in 1912, with a combination of wood and steel structure. The developer decided at the beginning of the project to break the building up into five individual homes, which would feature very high ceilings (the existing building had ceiling heights of 10' in the basement, and 14' on the first floor!), large open spaces, and custom stairs. Here are some progress shots of the demolition and construction work:

Rear view of the existing building, after the church was demolished. The hole in the foreground was for a new house at 2127 East Cumberland (see link, above).

Rear view of the existing building, after the church was demolished. The hole in the foreground was for a new house at 2127 East Cumberland (see link, above).

New concrete walls divide the basements of the five houses. Here, you can see the trenches for the new footings, as well as the existing steel columns and beams.

New concrete walls divide the basements of the five houses. Here, you can see the trenches for the new footings, as well as the existing steel columns and beams.

New openings were made for the main stairways in four of the five units.

New openings were made for the main stairways in four of the five units.

Window team is measuring for installation.

Window team is measuring for installation.

Once the new walls between the units were installed, you could really get a sense of how the space would feel when finished.

Once the new walls between the units were installed, you could really get a sense of how the space would feel when finished.

View from the rooftop of the original building, before the third-floor additions were built.

View from the rooftop of the original building, before the third-floor additions were built.

New openings were cut in the original back wall. This doorway accesses an addition at the second floor that contains a bedroom.

New openings were cut in the original back wall. This doorway accesses an addition at the second floor that contains a bedroom.

The main space on the first floor during demolition.

The main space on the first floor during demolition.

The original main staircase; this was repaired and refinished (see last photo, below).

The original main staircase; this was repaired and refinished (see last photo, below).

Well, after almost two years of design and construction, the first two homes are complete. They are full of custom details, such as steel stairs with reclaimed wood treads, built-ins in the kitchens, concrete countertops, and original wood paneling salvaged during demolition. We'll have some final photos soon; stay tuned! In the meantime, here are some shots from the open house:

The stone portion is the original building; the wood addition on top is new and contains the master bedroom suite.

The stone portion is the original building; the wood addition on top is new and contains the master bedroom suite.

This is the main floor, with kitchen, dining, and living space. The original stone walls are exposed, and the wood floors are original. The wood paneling is salvaged from the original structure.

This is the main floor, with kitchen, dining, and living space. The original stone walls are exposed, and the wood floors are original. The wood paneling is salvaged from the original structure.

This is the "basement" living space. With ten-foot ceilings and large windows, it certainly doesn't feel underground.

This is the "basement" living space. With ten-foot ceilings and large windows, it certainly doesn't feel underground.

The view from the master bedroom on the third floor.

The view from the master bedroom on the third floor.

The original main staircase was repaired and refinished, then extended up to the third floor.

The original main staircase was repaired and refinished, then extended up to the third floor.

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Things We Do: Historical Commission Approvals

Philadelphia is an old city, whose plan was first laid out by William Penn in 1683. One of the main agencies in charge of protecting our architectural history is the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC). Philadelphia has a combination of historic properties (individual buildings that are protected) and historic districts (whole areas of the city that are protected). The PHC has a process in place to review any work on protected buildings and within protected districts.

Proposed Facade Restoration Drawing, 1629 Wallace Street

Proposed Facade Restoration Drawing, 1629 Wallace Street

The Commission's protections cover the exterior shape and materials of a building. The goal is to preserve existing history, and--when new development is planned--to protect the character of historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Everything is reviewed--from the materials to be used, to the restoration of existing cornices, to the shape of the roofline. We've worked with several clients to get through this process. There are several steps involved.

At the beginning of design, we will confirm that the client's property is protected. Our experience with past projects helps to inform us as to what the PHC is likely to approve, and we will try to steer our work in that direction. After putting together some preliminary drawings and taking existing-conditions photographs, we will meet with PHC staff at their office to discuss the project. They will often be able to give us a deeper historical perspective on the building, using their extensive collection of historical photographs.

1600 Block of Wallace Street, 1963 (https://www.phillyhistory.org)

1600 Block of Wallace Street, 1963 (https://www.phillyhistory.org)

Once preliminary design is complete, we assemble an application package for the PHC Architectural Committee. This committee is made up of architects and preservationists, and their purpose is to provide guidance to us regarding the specifics of our building. We will meet with the committee to discuss the particulars of our building, and our proposed solutions. They will ultimately make a recommendation to the Historical Commission, either in favor of or in opposition to the project.

Existing Conditions at 1629 Wallace Street

Existing Conditions at 1629 Wallace Street

A few weeks later, we meet with the Historical Commission, which is the group that will make the final decision on the project. The Commission is made up of architects, preservationists, historians, and representatives from the community and real-estate development interests. We present the project to them, and they ask questions. At the end of the hearing, they will take a vote either approving or denying the project.

But wait--there's more! Assuming the project is approved, it's time for us to start on construction drawings. This involves more detailed drawings, as well as material samples. For a typical project, this might include "shop drawings" from a custom window manufacturer, brick and mortar samples, and metal finish samples. Once the construction drawings are complete and the details and material samples are assembled, we make one last trip to the PHC office to get everything reviewed. The review is just to make sure that we haven't changed anything since our Commission approval. After review, the PHC staff will stamp the drawings, and then they are ready to go to Licenses and Inspections for building permit review.

If you have a property that's listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, we can help!

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Socializing

Maybe you get our newsletter, but want to see more of the day-to-day stuff. Maybe you like construction photos of current projects? Maybe you wonder what an architect thinks about as they move through the world? Maybe you just want the facts about someone?

Well, we have several ways we put information out there, so take your pick.

On our Facebook page, we post photos from construction sites, real estate listings for recently-completed projects, and the occasional sketch or drawing of a project still in design.

On our Instagram page, you will mostly find pictures of random buildings throughout Philadelphia (and, occasionally, other places), with our thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly. We also publish these photos to Facebook and Twitter.

Our Twitter feed is mostly comprised of photos from Instagram, but we occasionally drop a thought or two there. As you can see, getting down to 140 characters is a bit of a challenge for us.

We use LinkedIn to show you our resumes and to give basic info about our firm.

We've started using Pinterest more and more to communicate ideas with clients. It's easy to make boards to describe the feeling you want in a space, a particular countertop material, or even a color scheme.

If you're on one or more of these sites, connect with us and see what we're up to!

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Project Progress: 170 West Oxford

We've been working on a renovation and addition to this little guy in South Kensington:

That's us, in the middle.

That's us, in the middle.

This building is an L-shaped one, with a very steep staircase, tiny rooms, and closed-in windows. We'll be opening up the interior, enlarging the windows back to their original size, rebuilding the stair, and adding a third floor.

The new plans. Finished basement, living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and a master suite on the third.

The new plans. Finished basement, living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and a master suite on the third.

Rough front and rear views of the finished house, from during preliminary design.

Rough front and rear views of the finished house, from during preliminary design.

A quick rendering of the finished project.

A quick rendering of the finished project.

The project needed a zoning variance for the addition, which was granted. We are currently working on construction drawings for this one--stay tuned!

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Working Together

I recently read an article from the November/December 2015 issue of Remodeling Magazine called "The Blueprint of a Profitable Partnership", by Victoria Downing. (I know, I know, I'm pretty far behind on my magazines.) It was a good article, giving readers some tips on what an architect is looking for in a builder. To paraphrase:

  1. Will you listen, and not impose your ideas on the architect.
  2. Will you bring the architect's design to life, or butcher it by cutting corners?
  3. Will you provide accurate estimates?
  4. Will you have great workmanship?
  5. Are you up to date on the latest products and construction methods?
  6. Will you handle material selection, if necessary?
  7. Are you organized, and do you communicate well?
  8. Do you have a record of on-time and on-budget projects?
  9. Have you done projects like this before?
  10. Do you consider the architect to be an ally? Will you bring him/her in on future projects?

This is a good list; I think most people would agree that these are reasonable things to want. And it got me thinking--what do we do in our office, to hold up our end of the bargain? How can we be good partners to our contractors?

  1. We like to listen, as well. Contractors know a lot about how buildings go together--not just how things should happen, but how the actually do happen. By visiting the jobsites and hearing how contractors deal with construction issues, we can provide better designs that will contain solutions in advance, or flexibility where there are unknowns.
  2. It's important for us to explain clearly what our priorities are. Most contractors don't want to cut corners, but they also need to be cost-conscious. By clearly describing what the priorities are, everyone can be on the same page.
  3. See #2. If we clearly describe what we want to achieve, the contractor can more accurately price the work.
  4. We believe that providing high-quality drawings and a well-thought-out design will help set a tone with the contractor that high-quality workmanship is expected. We also work to modulate the client's expectations regarding what good work costs.
  5. We do our best to stay up to date on what is happening in the field. New products come out all the time--contractors may have a different focus (ease of installation, lower cost) than the architect or client does (durability, performance, aesthetics), but if we're all keeping our eyes open and are discussing new things as they come out, the team can decide together whether to use a new solution to an old problem.
  6. Certain materials just need to perform (waterproofing or insulation, for example), while others need to have a certain appearance, too (finishes, flooring, etc). Depending on the project type and schedule, the client may want to depend more on the contractor's knowledge of what is available immediately, and we are happy to have their input.
  7. We try, at all times, to have clear, consistent communication. The best result for a project comes from everyone knowing what is happening, and having a chance to chime in on project decisions. That's part of why we try to involve the builder as early in the process as possible.
  8. Sometimes during construction, something will come up that stops the project in its tracks. It might be an unusual structural situation, or a clearance that just can't be met. We try to respond to these situations as quickly as possible, with solutions that are effective and simple. That way, the project can get back on track as quickly as possible, with minimal impact on budget.
  9. We bring a lot of experience, with many different project types under our belts. We try to learn from past projects and construction so we can constantly improve.
  10. As mentioned above in #7, we like to get the contractor involved as early as possible. That way, their input can be baked right into the design. And we're always happy to make recommendations to clients who are looking for them.

Builders--do you have a project that needs an architect?

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Things We Do: Zoning Plans

Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where you need to get permission to use your property in a way that isn't normally allowed. Some examples of this might include:

  • New curb cuts or parking spaces.
  • A duplex, on a lot that is only zoned to hold a single-family home.
  • A permit for live music or other types of assembly.
  • An accessory dwelling unit adjacent to your main residence.
  • An outbuilding on your property.
  • An apartment in a former storefront.

So, while you may not need an architect to "design" something for you, you most definitely need drawings that are to scale, and show the kind of information that the authorities need to see.

This is something we do a lot of. Whether you're getting a request directly from L+I or your attorney is telling you about it, we can help. The requirements are different depending on what you're trying to achieve. We've been through dozens of different scenarios, and can work with you to provide you with the information you need.

 

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Things We Do: Legalizations

Sometimes you have an existing condition at your property that you didn't know was a problem. That's what happened with this client--a corner-store owner who bought a store that had been in operation long before his time. A few years later, Licenses and Inspections informed him that his signs were not properly permitted, and that he needed to get permits or take the signs down. Not knowing what to do, he contacted us for help.

We were able to take our knowledge of the zoning code (which regulates signs) and produce some drawings for sign permits. Some existing signs would need to come down, and a new one would be made to meet the current size limitations. We handled the application process, and picked everything up after approval.

Some other examples of legalization plans we've worked on are occupancy plans for existing duplexes, site plans for parking garages, and interior plans for restaurants. Let us know if we can help you.

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Good Design Can Happen Anywhere

Peanut Chews are a Philly thing. They're made here, and they're popular here. One thing I love about them is this cool barcode design. It takes something that's usually ignored, and turns it into something interesting. That's the power of good design.

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New Facade on South Street

We started working on this project on South Street quite a while ago. One of the last parts of the project to be completed will be the front facade. The existing conditions left a lot to be desired.

Normally we'd work out the facade well in advance of construction. We did have a basic idea, but we also knew that a much larger development was soon going to start next door. The client wanted to wait to finalize our facade until the neighbor was complete; that way, we could do something that would complement their design.

Here, you can see our proposed design (on the left) next to the new neighboring building. We gave this sketch to the metal panel installer on a Friday. That weekend and into the next week, he completed fabrication and installation.

As you can see, the result is very close to what we drew, and the whole process (sketch to completed facade) only took ten days. In the world of architecture, this is like instant gratification!

One of the best parts of this job is designing something and then seeing it in its finished form. You always learn a lot about design, as well as about how things are put together and what the limitations are of your materials and the techniques used to assemble them.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thanks, Sara, for a great card design this year!

Thanks, Sara, for a great card design this year!

We like sending Thanksgiving cards--maybe you got one? It gives us a chance to focus on all that we have to be thankful for. We work in a growing city, with clients who value what we do. We love our work, and are grateful for those who make it possible. Have a safe and happy holiday.

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Our Team is Growing!

Well, it's finally happened. We've grown to the point that we needed more help. Lucky for us, Sara was ready to go.

Sara Shonk, our newest team member, is a licensed Architect, Interior Designer, and LEED AP. Since her time at Kent State University, she has had over 10 years of experience in residential, higher education, K-12 facilities, health care, preservation, sustainability, commercial, retail and hospitality design. 

Sara's experience will be a great benefit to our clients. She has a thorough knowledge of the complex building and accessibility codes that are applicable to larger projects. She has a strong work ethic that helps her develop creative solutions to design challenges and stay on schedule. And her interiors expertise means that at the end of the project, the final product will not only function, but will be beautiful as well.

Welcome Sara!

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Demolition Time

It's always fun to see a new project get started. For this one, we'll be rebuilding the rear portion of an existing two-story building and adding a third floor and roof deck. But first--demolition!

These brick walls tell a story of many changes over time. Much of the brick will remain exposed.

These brick walls tell a story of many changes over time. Much of the brick will remain exposed.

standing in the former kitchen, looking up at the former bathroom (and the sky)

standing in the former kitchen, looking up at the former bathroom (and the sky)

You can see the outline of the former addition imprinted on the neighbor's wall. Metal joist hangers in the former second-floor framing show that this was a modern addition.

You can see the outline of the former addition imprinted on the neighbor's wall. Metal joist hangers in the former second-floor framing show that this was a modern addition.

We'll keep you updated as the project moves forward!

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Tilton Street Residence

the front--just before it was completed

the front--just before it was completed

Our Tilton Street Residence (constructed by Red Oak Development) is completed and on the market! This is a wide lot (at least, for Philadelphia), which allowed us to turn the stair and make it more sculptural on the main floor.

standing at the front door, looking past the staircase to the kitchen

standing at the front door, looking past the staircase to the kitchen

The facade is metal panel, and gives a depth to this mostly-flat surface. There's a balcony at the second-floor bedroom that has a cool view of the elevated highway nearby.

the facade, just before completion

the facade, just before completion

the view from the second-floor balcony; you can see the highway past the neighboring buildings

the view from the second-floor balcony; you can see the highway past the neighboring buildings

Something we don't talk a lot about with these new-construction houses is the basement. In older houses, the basements are damp, dusty, and have low ceilings (usually around six feet!). However, in new construction you can solve those problems. We routinely have eight- or nine-foot basement ceilings, and the waterproofing is dependable enough to install carpeting over the concrete floor. This has the advantage of adding 30% more living space to a three-story house!

a nice, clean finished basement

a nice, clean finished basement

For those of you who love the construction photos, here are some we took during the process:

foundation excavation gets started

foundation excavation gets started

basement walls are poured

basement walls are poured

framing in progress--starting the third floor

framing in progress--starting the third floor

interior view of framing; because of the width of the house, we needed to use wood I-joists for the floors and roof

interior view of framing; because of the width of the house, we needed to use wood I-joists for the floors and roof

sheathing going up on the exterior; framing has been topped out

sheathing going up on the exterior; framing has been topped out

inside, after insulation and utilities go in; plumbing for the washing machine, pipes coming down from the bathroom above, sprinkler piping, venting for the dryer, and a heating duct all compete for space

inside, after insulation and utilities go in; plumbing for the washing machine, pipes coming down from the bathroom above, sprinkler piping, venting for the dryer, and a heating duct all compete for space

view of the Center City skyline from the roof

view of the Center City skyline from the roof

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Things We Do: Work in New Jersey

"Do you do work in New Jersey," you ask? Yes, sometimes we do. We're licensed architects in both PA and NJ, so we've got you covered. 

Here is a little something we're working on in Voorhees, NJ; an attic conversion. We're adding three dormers (two in the front, one in the back) to the roof of this single-story home, which will add three bedrooms (including a master suite) and some living space.

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Project Update: 10th Street Facade Renovation

existing conditions

existing conditions

the completed facade

the completed facade

the new facade in context with its neighbor

the new facade in context with its neighbor

For this project, we worked with the owner of a mixed-use building to renovate the first-floor facade. The original front was an interesting storefront, with large panes of glass and a double entry door (one for the first floor daycare center, and one for the upper-floor apartment). The trouble was that 1) the first-floor use is a daycare center, which needed privacy for the children and never had the windows uncovered, and 2) the large panes of glass were set into a very minimal structure that allowed too much movement; the glass was subject to breaking when large trucks drove by!

Obviously, this presented a problem for the users of the building, and a cost to the owner. So, she decided it was time for a makeover. The idea was to mimic, as closely as possible, the surrounding buildings.

As you can see above, we did just that. Cast-stone lintels, base course, and door surround complement the natural stone details next door. And a custom-built door (from John's Custom Stairs) finished off the look.

During construction, we had to work around several challenges, not least of which was the large steel beam that spanned over the original storefront windows. But the masons (Fresh Start Enterprises) did a great job through it all, and delivered a great final product.

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Cumberland Street Residence

Construction is wrapping up on our new-construction residence on Cumberland Street in East Kensington. This was a very large (for Philly) lot and we were able to take advantage of the extra space to do a nice, open stair with skylights above, as well as an upper and lower roof deck. The upper deck has skyline views, and the lower deck looks at the rear of our Parish House residences over on Firth Street.

kitchen

kitchen

large master bath with double vanity and walk-in shower

large master bath with double vanity and walk-in shower

the open stairway has a large skylight over it to bring natural light into the center of the house

the open stairway has a large skylight over it to bring natural light into the center of the house

On the facade, we combined red brick and black metal panel, with a bay window that tilts towards a view down the street.

Cumberland Street facade; sidewalk is going back in

Cumberland Street facade; sidewalk is going back in

Kudos to Red Oak Development on another great project.

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Things We Do: Permits

assembling permit materials for five current projects

assembling permit materials for five current projects

A big part of getting a project done is getting the right permits. You may have heard from your friends about the long lines, frustrating responses, and failed attempts to get permits, along with the associated delays and violations.

One of the things we do on nearly every project is handle permitting. This involves more than just assembling the required drawings, forms, and paperwork for the initial submission. We also fill out all the paperwork and get the required pre-approvals before dropping it off with Licenses + Inspections. This removes any doubt our clients might have that the right stuff has gone in, and that it has gotten to the right person.

After the application has been reviewed, the plans examiner might have additional questions. They get in touch directly with us, and we provide the answers they need. After the review is complete, we pick up the permit for you (remember those lines?) and get it into your builder's hands so you can get going with construction. 

Never having to deal with L+I for permits? Just one more perk of working with us.

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Things We Do: Lot Subdivisions & Consolidations

Sometimes you have a property that's too big for one project, and you want to divide it into more than one lot. On the other hand, maybe you have two small lots next to each other, and you want to combine them into one. These processes are called subdivisions and consolidations, respectively. 

In order to make this happen, you need to work with a surveyor, the City Survey District, the Office of Property Assessment, and the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

We've worked with several clients to make this happen. Before that, though, we were able to help the clients analyze their properties to determine whether a consolidation/subdivision was a good idea or not. The potential of your property is determined by the zoning code, so we want you to be sure that you can achieve your goals before going through with the process.

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Our New Home

Well, we're finally moved into our new home. We've relocated to the Bok building in South Philadelphia, just a few blocks from our former location. It's been an exciting move.

The building is a former Vo-Tech high school, built in 1936 in an art-deco style. It is a beautiful building and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Plus, it's over 340,000 square feet! So, there were lots of spaces to choose from.

Despite its great pedigree, the building was left in disrepair when the School District of Philadelphia left it at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Here's what we started with:

It was a little messy.

It was a little messy.

The first thing to do was to measure and draw up what we wanted for a new layout. We wanted a mostly-open space, with a small room set aside for a kitchenette, storage, and printer. We drew up the plans (naturally) and the building owner, Scout, worked with us to get the improvements done. We wanted to make sure we were planning ahead for future growth.

Planning ahead is a good idea.

Planning ahead is a good idea.

After we got the plan nailed down, it was time to pack and wait for construction to get finished. Packing was a lot of work! Finally, it all came together. It took us a few weeks to get settled in, but we're excited with the results. We even included some custom desks, a coffee table, and some built-in shelves from one of our new neighbors, J&K Lockerby.

Maybe you'll stop by sometime to have a look? 

Our new address is 1901 South 9th Street, Suite 221, Philadelphia, PA 19148.

See you soon!

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