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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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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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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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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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Coral Street Residence

coral street facade

Construction has just wrapped up on our Coral Street residence. This was a project that started out as a spec house for a developer (Red Oak Development). However, after getting started with construction, a buyer approached the builders, and we worked with her to customize some features of the house, including the master suite and the front elevation.

For the front, the buyer wanted something that referenced the existing architecture in East Kensington, where the house is located. This neighborhood is a mix of rowhomes and old factories. For this facade, we used a traditional red brick, with arched windows. On the right, you can see some filled-in openings; this is a nod to the many factory windows that get filled in over time, as the factory's needs change.

 some progress shots during construction

some progress shots during construction

 completed framing, vs. the design drawing

completed framing, vs. the design drawing

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Parish House - Construction Starts

 hidden treasures

hidden treasures

We visited our project site at 2126-34 East Firth Street in Philadelphia yesterday to observe ongoing demolition work. This building was a former Parish House (not coincidentally, our official name for the project) that is being converted into five single-family homes. We're completely redoing the interior, leaving several stone and brick walls exposed. Lots of original detailing, including the main stair that will remain as part of one of the units. We are also doing a third floor addition to gain some extra bedroom space.

 the former main hall; the walls between the new homes will fall along the beam lines

the former main hall; the walls between the new homes will fall along the beam lines

One of the great things about working with older buildings is the opportunity to be surprised. Demolition has exposed a lot more character to the old masonry walls than we were expecting, so we'll be exposing more than we'd planned. We're also reworking two of the units to take advantage of some material and structural conditions we weren't expecting; they will be amazing.

The crew also found a stash of about 100 metal book-printing plates behind a wall (they're in the picture at the top of this post). They are mostly religious in nature, and many of them were wrapped in newspaper, dated 1937. They have also salvaged a lot of lumber, doors, paneling, and several old gas-lighting fixtures. You can see lots of this stuff in the photo below.

It's exciting to work with clients--in this case, Red Oak Development--who come to us with great projects, and who also have a vision for the type of work that they want to create. It means that we can take advantage of unique opportunities when they come up, to make the project better than any of us could have expected.

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Project Update: Arizona Street Residence

Our Arizona Street Residence is nearing completion. This is a sister project to our three Arizona Street Residences that we last wrote about at the end of last year. Those houses were clad in red brick and metal panel. This one is all metal on the front. It's a similar layout inside (three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, finished basement, roof deck), but this lot is a bit narrower.

The narrow lot and low neighbors make this one look particularly tall. Below, some photos from the construction process.

 the lot before construction began; the wood door leads through a passageway that runs between the two properties for emergencies

the lot before construction began; the wood door leads through a passageway that runs between the two properties for emergencies

 foundations are poured

foundations are poured

 framing is complete up to the roof

framing is complete up to the roof

 basement is excavated; you can see the existing rubble wall from the house that used to be on the site

basement is excavated; you can see the existing rubble wall from the house that used to be on the site

 framing getting started

framing getting started

 here, you can see the depth in the facade

here, you can see the depth in the facade

 framing is finished; you can see the distinct height difference between this one and the neighbors. In the time since these photos were taken, new, similarly-scaled construction has taken place next door.

framing is finished; you can see the distinct height difference between this one and the neighbors. In the time since these photos were taken, new, similarly-scaled construction has taken place next door.

This project sold before construction was completed. Kudos to Red Oak Development on a job well done.

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Old Buildings - Salmon Brick

 Buildings & Water - not very good friends.

Buildings & Water - not very good friends.

If you live in an older home, you've probably seen little piles of orangey dust in your basement near the walls. Or maybe you were in an an old house being renovated, and saw something like the picture above. Ever wonder what's going on?

Most older rowhouses in Philadelphia used two main types of brick. The brick you see on the exterior is called "face brick", and the brick on the inside is (often) "salmon brick".

When bricks are made, the clay is put into molds or is extruded (like a Play-Doh fun factory) and then gets dried to remove excess moisture. The dried brick is then fired in a kiln to "vitrify" the clay, which is a chemical process that makes the brick hard and water-resistant.

This last step is where the second type of brick, "salmon brick" falls short. This brick is fired for less time, so it doesn't have a chance to develop the hard exterior that will protect it from water. It was cheaper to produce than face brick, and was used on the interior of brick walls (most rowhomes in Philadelphia have walls that are two bricks thick--face brick on the outside, and salmon brick on the inside).

Water is salmon brick's worst enemy. Buildings have lots of places they can leak--around windows, at roof joints, and at settlement cracks, for example. Once water gets in, it's only a matter of time before the salmon brick starts falling apart, as the water can easily get into its pores. As the brick wets and dries, it starts to turn to powder--the little orange piles you see in your basement.

What can you do to fix this? If your brick isn't too deteriorated, then stopping the source of water will mostly stop the damage. Over time you may still see more dust, but the worst is probably over. For a very deteriorated brick, the only solution is to replace it. Make sure you have a skilled mason do this work!

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Cut it Out!

 Still going.

Still going.

In older Philly rowhomes, the bathroom plumbing was often accommodated by notching the floor structure. Here's an example. Not only can you see the deep, ragged notch, but you can also see the water damage where the former bathtub drain leaked water into the wound.

This would never pass inspection today. A bathtub was here, so right where you'd want the most strength (400 lbs of water plus the bather) you have a weakened joist. And yet it still stands, 100 years later.

How is this possible? Partly, it's because the wood used in older buildings was much denser than wood used today. The wood from back then was taken from natural forests, where trees grew at their own pace. Today, most wood comes from farms, where trees grow on an accelerated schedule (through fertilization and watering techniques), meaning they don't have time to get as dense as they do now. Also, older homes in Philadelphia were often framed with hardwoods (chestnut, for example), while newer wood is softwood, like pine or fir. Hardwood is stiffer than softwood, so it could take more abuse.

Regardless, you wouldn't see a notch like this today. If you do, call your architect!

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Project Roundup: Week of 12/14/15

Since it's been a couple of weeks since we last posted, there are lots of projects to talk about this time. 

Zoning

One thing we've been doing more and more of is zoning plans. Whenever a property owner wants to use a building in a way that isn't normally permitted, they need to get a zoning variance. (I've written about this before: here and here.) Sometimes that's by design, where a client wants to build say, a commercial building on a lot zoned for residential use. Often, though, a property owner will be looking for a variance to "legalize" a preexisting condition on a property they just bought. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting this beauty in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia in order to draw up plans to legalize a four-unit apartment building that is zoned to have only three units.

A nice twin on Springfield Avenue (we're working on the one on the right)

Historical Commission

But the fun doesn't just stop with zoning. Sometimes you want to do work on a property that's been designated as historic. In that case, anything you do to the exterior needs a sign off from the Historical Commission. We have one project that falls into that category, as well. It's a building near Logan Square that was once a single-family home, but will now be converted to luxury apartments. The windows are original, and we will have them restored to their former glory (and will take down the awful aluminum storm windows that are covering them up!). Once we have all the proper documentation together for the windows, along with the part of the back of the building that needs to be rebuilt, I can take everything to the Commission for their input.

Front elevation. This building is part of a whole row that is historically designated.

A close-up of one of those giant ground-floor windows--that trim is original!

Renovations

In renovation news, we are making progress on a nine-unit apartment building in East Germantown. This building has been underloved for some time, and its new owner really wants to make it an asset to the neighborhood. We'll be doing a full interior renovation, as well as sprucing up the exterior with new roof, windows, and a covered porch.

Existing conditions on High Street near the former Germantown High SchoolHere's a quick sketch of what we're proposing for the front. The downspout will be moved, and the metal-encased brackets around the eaves will be restored to their original condition, or removed. The large front porch will be taken over with planters on the sides and a roof in the center to provide residents with protection from the weather.

Sketch of the proposed exterior

New Construction

And as always, there's lots going on in the new-construction world. We visited Arizona Street in East Kensington to take a look at progress. We have one three-building development there which is almost complete (and all three units have sold already!). You've seen photos of that one before, but I'm happy to report that the metal panel on the front is finally complete.

Front elevation on Arizona StreetWhen you look up from the sidewalk, you get this view

We also saw our project on Coral Street (right around the corner from the Arizona Street project) get started. After a very brief period as a hole in the ground and then some concrete foundation walls, the framing is barreling ahead.

From 1) vacant lot to 2) hole in the ground to 3) foundations to 4) framing, in three weeksAnd here's a comparison of where we are today, next to the final drawing. We're doing a more traditional front than we usually do, with a nice cornice and arch-topped windows. On the side where there won't be windows, we're doing a herringbone panel that pays homage to the numerous "ghost windows" often found on factories in the neighborhood.

Today, and the future.And last but not least, we broke ground on a new residence on Tilton Street in Olde Richmond. This will be 2,700 square feet--a fairly large (for us) house--since the lot is nearly 22 feet wide. (Normally we work on lots between 14' and 17'.) It's not much to look at yet, but we'll keep updating you on its progress.

The black stuff you can see on the outside of the concrete walls is a waterproofing layerCheck back here for more updates, coming soon!

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Zoning Process [Part II]

Next Steps, Nuts, and Bolts 

In the first part of our Zoning article, we gave an overview of the process. Some of the considerations include whether your project will affect land use, whether it’s new construction or a rehabilitation project. Another tip we covered was design and the importance of having an experienced architect. Below are your steps in the approval process that are more detailed.

STEP 1:  ZONING APPLICATION; What information do I need?

The application will require the following information

  1. Current use of property
  2. Proposed use of property
  3. Dimensions and heights of existing and proposed construction
  4. Signs – description, plot plans, photos of existing signs
  5. Plot plan for any new construction or additions
  6. Owner’s name, address and phone number
  7. Architect’s name, address and phone number
  8. Signature(s) of applicant(s)

WHEN WILL I GET A DECISION? Review time is fifteen business days for residential projects, and twenty business days for commercial projects. A letter will be emailed when a decision is made. Some types of applications can receive an “accelerated review” for an additional fee.

WHAT WILL THE DECISION BE?

  1. Approval –your application has been approved because it conforms to the Philadelphia Zoning Code.
  2. Refusal – your application has been denied because your project does not conform with the Zoning Code. You may 1) appeal this decision to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, 2) revise your plans to fit within the Zoning Code requirements, or 3) abandon your application.

Refused! What if what I want to do is not permitted?

If your request for a zoning permit is “Refused”, you can appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (the “ZBA”). We’ll go into more detail on this process in Part III of this series. In short, the ZBA may sometimes allow exceptions to zoning code limitations. Upon hearing the appeal, the ZBA may offer relief in one of three forms:

Variance – provided where the use of the property (or the dimensions of what you want to build) is normally prohibited, but enforcing the code would result in “unnecessary hardship” to the property. To obtain a variance, the applicant must prove that 1) the grant of the variance is in the spirit of the zoning code and overall City plan and will not adversely affect public health, welfare or safety; 2) the conditions are unique to the property; and 3) the applicant did not create the need for the variance. Variances run with the land, not with the owner, so the ZBA takes its decisions seriously, knowing that they will have long-term effects.

The Experience of Your Architect

Here’s a perfect example for when experience comes in handy when hiring an architect. In Zoning; Part I, we discussed how your architect should, initially, determine what is allowed “by right” as opposed to what will require a variance. This is key because your project may not need a variance after all, but rather a simple zoning permit with a more compliant design tweak.

Certificates – either a “special use exception” or “conditional use” is issued with approval of the ZBA. The applicant is not required to prove “unnecessary hardship,” but must persuade the ZBA that the use is a certified use and satisfies the specific requirements of the ordinance.

Special Use Permit – typically triggered by a referral for parking uses or other uses that may have negative impacts on the neighbors, including nightclubs, animal-centered uses, and take-out restaurants. The applicant has the burden of proving that the use falls within the special use permit categories and must produce the additional required materials.

Stay Tuned for our last part of our Zoning coverage when we talk about...

PART III: THE ZONING APPEAL AND HEARING

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Project Roundup: Week of 11/20/15

Multi-unit building with design that is clean, filled with light, and interesting details.

1321-27 N. 7th Street

 

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Project Roundup: Week of 11/9/15

This week we did some on-site visits. In one day, we visited 3 locations which were at various points of completion. Here is the first one we visited. Scroll through each blog's photos to see how our design and building solutions added space and light to these new homes. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them and to see more notes.)

2028-32 Arizona Street (Kensington neighborhood)

 

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Project Roundup: Week of 10/26/15

It was a busy week here. Wednesday was a trip up to New York to watch a first-year graduate student review at Columbia University. I didn't take a whole lot of pictures of the students' work, but I did take some photos of the room we were in. Back when I was visiting colleges with my parents, my dad made the observation that architecture buildings always seemed to be the worst on campus. I didn't see much of the building I was in, but the specific room was definitely underloved. Here's an example of the kind of delicate, thoughtful detailing I observed:

If the review hadn't been so interesting, I would have probably spent more time trying to come up with a backstory for these things. But fortunately, the students kept my attention. Congratulations to the students and their professor, Adam Snow Frampton of Only If, on all the progress.

After returning to Philadelphia, I made the rounds of projects in progress:

2028-32 East Arizona Street

Last week you only got to see the exterior of this project, but the real excitement this week is happening inside. Each of the three houses are in different stages of completion:

Here, sprinklers are going in. Insulation just went in this week, too.

Next door, drywall is up and you can really start to get a feel for what the completed spaces will be like. Here, you can see the sunlight coming in through the double-height glass in the dining room and washing across the kitchen wall.

In the finished basement, the electricians are working hard to finalize all of the circuiting for lighting and outlets.

On the second floor, the hardwood flooring is in and the painters are working away.

2136 East Firth Street

This one is a total gut-rehab of an existing three-story rowhouse. It's right next door to our soon-to-start-construction Parish House project (more on that in a few weeks). Here, you can see that insulating foam has been applied to the exterior of the old brick walls, and will soon be ready for an application of stucco. The system provides good air sealing and a little extra insulation to the overall wall assembly. 

On the horizon, we'll be working on a house for this tiny 13' x 43' lot in the Kensington section of Philadelphia (it's the one in the middle):

See you next week!

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Project Roundup: Week of 10/19/15

Hi, everyone. Well, we've been very busy around here, and haven't been so good at posting. If you spend any time over on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds (which I'm sure you do), you know that we do construction site visits every week, and often post pictures from there. We thought it would be nice to put some project photos here, too, along with a bit more description of what's going on, useful links, etc. So, here goes:

2028-32 East Arizona Street

2028-32 East Arizona Street

This project is getting fairly close to completion. This is three single-family homes, located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The neighborhood is an exciting one, and is seeing a lot of redevelopment now. The grain of the neighborhood is varied, with lots of different lot sizes and uses. This gives the neighborhood a "homogeneous heterogeneousness", meaning that difference is the norm. Unlike some other neighborhoods, this one has lots of different sizes, styles, and materials, and is a great place for a little experimentation.

In our case, we have a red-brick wall providing the background for projecting bays and recessed indents running in vertical ribbons on the facades. The bay cladding is just going up now; it will be a dark gray metal panel. You can see the front is currently in various stages of completion (close-up below). Inside, it's much the same; in the house on the right, drywall has gone in and other finish work is just beginning, while in the house on the left, the utilities are still being installed.

2028-32 East Arizona Street - Elevation Detail

1321-27 North 7th Street

1321-27 North 7th Street

Here's another project that's almost complete. Located just north of Girard Avenue in the South Kensington section of Philadelphia, this project is three new three-unit condominium buildings next to a two-unit renovation. By removing and rebuilding the existing (nearly collapsed) facade of the old building (the gray one at the far left of the group), we were able to design a rebuild that ties in visually with the other, new facades.

These units are now on the market. You can see more info, including professional photos, here. The top-floor unit of building 1321 has been staged for the photos, so you can really get a feel for what the units will be like. The top-floor units are my favorite, because we were able to get very large (4' x 8') skylights over the kitchens, and the units also have access to roof decks with great views of the skyline and Ben Franklin Bridge.

Kitchen at 1321 North 7th Street

So, what else?

We've got all sorts of other things going on. Of course, there are other projects under construction that aren't featured here. And with winter quickly approaching, the rush is on to get building permits and start excavation and concrete work before the ground freezes. Currently, we have several projects in various stages of permit review with the goal of starting before Thanksgiving.

On the horizon we have a few new-construction projects to get design started on, as well as the full renovation of a beautiful old apartment building in Germantown, a restaurant in Point Breeze, and an adaptive reuse of a former varnish factory in Holmesburg. Keep your eyes here for more updates!

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The End of the Process

This is the latest project we've completed, at 3253 Sunnyside Avenue in the East Falls section of Philadelphia.  Back in July and August, I wrote two posts about the beginning of the design process. At that point, I had just finished the two initial phases: existing conditions documentation and design

Between the drawings in the first two posts and now, there was, of course, the process of construction. Below is a slideshow depicting each stage of that process.

 

 For those of you who don't want to go through the slideshow, here are some before-and-after photos:

Master Bedroom, before and after. We removed the large chimney and raised the ceiling to make the room more spacious.

Living Room, before and after.

Dining Room in four phases: 1) Existing Room, 2) New Framing, 3) Drywall, 4) Complete

The Kitchen was probably the most dramatic change. Here, a view of the existing room, the new room just after framing, and the completed space.

This was a very successful project with a great client. The construction quality is very high and everyone really took pride in it. Special thanks to the realtor and client for many of these photos.

The house is currently for sale. You can see the listing here.

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