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Open Studio!

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If you’re looking for something fun to do this Friday night, feel free to drop by our office (Room 425) for Open Studios night at Bok. Several tenants will be open to display their creative work in architecture, video, furnituremaking, glassblowing, jewelrymaking, and light.

4-7 pm Friday, October 11th
Bok Building, 1901 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148

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Hidden Design at the National Constitution Center

by Sara Pochedly

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I recently made my first trip to the National Constitution Center located here in Philadelphia.  As a designer I was really impressed by the permanent exhibit space.  While there were approximately 100 people experiencing the exhibits, the room was surprisingly quiet.  Looking around I could see a variety of screens playing videos, but there were no headsets, no phone apps and I could not hear any media sounds.  And then all of a sudden, I stepped directly in front of a screen and the sound arrived!  I looked to the left, then to the right, and lastly up towards the ceiling, but saw nothing.  I thought, where is the sound coming from?  And then I looked towards to floor and noticed that the flooring had changed from carpet to a metal grate and realized the focused sound was coming from the floor!  Scanning the rest of the room I soon realized that many of the exhibits had these grates.  While they were not completely invisible, these grates blended into the background, and yet they were the most impactful part of the exhibit.  They made the exhibits engaging because as you moved from area to area, you continuously walked in and out of relevant audio/video clips.  This is a great example of when good design is invisible.

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Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a self-proclaimed museum aficionado.

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Architecture in Video Games

by Sam Katovitch

Video games are, for the most part, about building worlds.  These worlds can reflect our own, and many “realistic” games, such as racing games, exploration games, and combat games often do.  They can superficially resemble our world, but operate on different principles, or different mechanics to lend them the edge of difference.  Video games can also build worlds that never have or could have existed in our universe, with settings in the future, the past, different planets, or even alternate dimensions.  Part of what makes these varied settings so immersive and engaging is the graphical and visual languages from which they are made, and the designers of these worlds work just as hard as any architects operating in the real world. 

Making a game world takes a lot of work, and if a setting is good, it means a person or team of persons poured their blood, sweat, and tears into making it so.  If a world is detailed, engaging, and most importantly believable, at least in the context of the game, it has that elusive quality that is the Holy Grail of video game designers – immersion.  A game world that swallows up the player and lets them believe, if only for a second, that what they are doing is making a difference, has that all-important quality. 

Conversely, badly-designed settings take a player out of the experience, and a good game that is hampered by a badly-designed or poorly-implemented world is the worst kind of bad experience, especially if the story on its own is engaging.  Many independently made (aka “indie”) games suffer this problem, as many are very well written, but all the good writing in the world isn’t going to pay animators and designers enough to create a good world on a shoestring budget. 

Video game settings are also very dependent on the player’s suspension of disbelief, and their standards.  Games like Doom and Quake from the very earliest days of 3D looked great in comparison to 2D games of their day, but in the nearly 3 decades since those games came out video game technology has come a very long way.

Part of what makes video games so massively popular among mainstream media is their ability to create settings which could never existing in the real world.  The architecture of these settings varies massively based on the genre and artistic preferences of the designers and the message they are trying to get across.  The ancient, incomprehensible megastructures of Halo or Shadow of the Colossus create a sense of being a tiny, insignificant creature, wandering through the ruins of a once mighty, now fallen civilization; the towering, claustrophobic Gothic spires and ancient cathedrals from games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne contribute to a much more oppressive, deliberately angst-inducing environment.  The small villages and bustling, human-scale cities of the Elder Scrolls games are a stark contrast to the cavernous tombs, dungeons, and bandit camps the player explores in the wilderness, and provide welcome moments of relief from dangerous adventures. The oppressive city of Dunwall in Dishonored, on the other hand, is as much an enemy and obstacle to the player as the corrupt city guards and swarms of carnivorous rats the game is known for.

Portal at Voi –  Halo 3 , 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Portal at Voi – Halo 3, 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Research Hall –  Bloodborne,  2015, FromSoftware

Research Hall – Bloodborne, 2015, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle –  Dark Souls 3,  2016, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle – Dark Souls 3, 2016, FromSoftware

Riverwood Village –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,  2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Riverwood Village – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Dunwall Clocktower –  Dishonored,  2012, Arkane Studios

Dunwall Clocktower – Dishonored, 2012, Arkane Studios

With the growing video game industry came the burgeoning profession of video game environment designer. Designers of video game worlds may not be bound by strict building or zoning codes like designers in the real world, but they have an entirely different set of rules they have to abide by, as nothing breaks a video game’s immersion than bad level design. A video game world has to be just as well laid-out as a major civic or commercial building, because in many situations there will not be signs pointing the player’s way to the next objective. The wayfinding in virtual environments is crucial, since if a player gets frustrated and lost, they are as likely to turn off the game and go do something else as they are to keep pushing until they find the way forward. This does not necessarily mean the environments need to be simple – a great deal of skill is needed to create a game world where the paths are complex enough to challenge, but navigable enough to not frustrate players. On the low end of the complexity spectrum are games like the Call of Duty series, where the levels are linear and progress is restricted almost entirely to corridors so the players keep moving forward, thus allowing little to no exploration or player freedom, to allow greater focus on the game’s story. At the other end of the scale are puzzle games like Portal and The Talos Principle, which have more open-ended levels with the path forward cleverly disguised by puzzles and confusing layouts. There are players who prefer linearity, and those that prefer to find their own way through an environment, but players naturally gravitate to games with the kinds of environments they enjoy.

Aqueduct –  The Talos Principle,  2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

Aqueduct – The Talos Principle, 2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

The worlds built by video game designers may not necessarily reflect our own, but a similar amount of care goes into creating an engaging environment in virtual space as it does in reality.  Game designers may not be bound by the laws of gravity, but they are bound by the laws of player consciousness and understanding, and a game with a badly-realized world will soon be laden with negative reviews and critical panning.  Thus, video game architecture has to be carefully laid out and curated so as not to take the player out of the experience and ruin their immersion, and most importantly, it has to be believable enough to serve the main point of video games in general – to be a break from the mundanity of everyday life, and a chance to escape into a world of fantastic scenes. 

Sources:

Bloodborne – Research Hall - https://bloodborne.wiki.fextralife.com/Research+Hall

The Talos Principle – Aqueduct - http://www.croteam.com/talosprinciple/

Dishonored – Dunwall Clocktower - https://dishonored.fandom.com/wiki/Clocktower

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Riverwood Village - https://en.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Riverwood

Dark Souls 3 – Lothric Castle - https://darksouls.fandom.com/wiki/Lothric_Castle

Halo 3 – Portal at Voi - http://halo.bungie.net/projects/halo3/default.aspx

Sam has played all these games, but mostly just draws his own worlds now (he’s an architecture student, you know!)

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Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ

by Sara Pochedly

Looking for an Architectural day trip adventure?

Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ: (A day trip) A quick 1.75 hour drive from Philadelphia.

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I grew up in an Arts and Crafts Style home with parents who are avid antique collectors.   

The Arts and Crafts Movement, also sometimes known as Craftsman Style or Mission Style, was an international design movement in Europe and North America that lasted from approximately 1880-1920.  The movement encouraged traditional craftsmanship and simple forms.

When I moved to the Philadelphia area my Dad was thrilled that he could finally make it to Morrisville, NJ to visit Craftsman Farm, Gustav Stickley’s Iconic Log House, and to date we have visited on 3 separate occasions.  Stickley was a very well-known turn-of-the-century (1900s) furniture maker who bought the land in New Jersey to get away from the busy New York life.  He had the intention of creating a farm school for boys, to get back to the basics of life.  Though the dream of a school never fully materialized, he built several buildings on the property including the club house which was originally intended for gatherings and meals, and later was turned into the Stickley Family Home.  He and his family lived there from 1911 until 1915 when he filed for bankruptcy and sold the house.  The house only had one other owner and was sold in 1989. The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms was formed in 1989 to protect and preserve the property.

Craftsman Farms was the only residence Stickley built for himself and is now considered one of the most significant American Arts and Crafts buildings.  Several distinctive details include the copper fireplaces, each with their own saying, the color palette, all very dark colors which give the spaces a particular ambiance, and of course, the space-specific furniture and furnishings,  many of which, have been re-acquired or replicated by the museum.

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The museum is open limited hours each week and makes for a nice weekend trip.  When you are up in the Morrisville area you can also check out the National Park Service - Morristown National Historical Park.

To learn more about Craftsman Farm or schedule your trip please visit https://www.stickleymuseum.org/

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

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Architectural Photography

by Sam Katovitch

Collision

Collision

The photographing of architecture is as much of an art as the design of the actual spaces and forms is.  Where the goal of architecture – arguably – is to create spaces ideal for the activities predicted to take place in them, architectural photography is the art of capturing an image that by its very nature cannot be fully processed by the human eye, and making it comprehensible, relatable, and beautiful. 

The craft of architectural photography is extremely dependent on the equipment used, which in ordinary photography is just the tool by which images are made.  When photographing buildings, normal lenses aren’t enough.  The human visual system has a binocular field of view of about 115 degrees horizontally, in addition to 40 degrees on each side which are peripheral only.  Compare that to a normal 50mm prime lens (the standard in the days of 35mm film).  That lens has a field of view of 40 degrees total – no peripheral vision here.  Now, a single human eye has a field of view of about 55 degrees, which is roughly equivalent to a 43mm lens.  Such a lens is not hard to obtain, as it isn’t even really considered “wide-angle.”  But if an architectural photographer used a 43mm lens to photograph a building, it would be like looking through a single human eye – one with zero peripheral vision.  Thus, wide angle lenses become crucial for photographers wishing to capture the same angles of view as those of the human eye.  The earliest lenses used for this purpose had focal lengths of 24-35mm in the days of film cameras, and the widest lens commonly available now is a mere 14mm equivalent focal length. 

The other hurdle photographers must clear when capturing architecture – one made more difficult due to the use of wide-angle lenses – is the problem of converging lines.  Due to the way lenses are made, combined with the natural perspective that is inherent to single-point view, wide angle shots and shots taken at an angle looking upward are victim to converging lines.  This is less of a problem in street or landscape or portrait photography as the subjects are more organic, less subject to perspective, and generally smaller in scale. In architectural photography this becomes a huge issue.  Perspective and lens mechanics conspire to make buildings look crooked, tilted, or oddly foreshortened.  This is why photos taken by a tourist on their smartphone or digital camera will never look the same as those that have been taken by a professional photographer, and only part of that is due to skill.  The method developed to get around this issue is called tilt-shift photography. 

Tilt-shift photography is nothing new, in fact it has been an ability of cameras going all the way back to early bellows cameras, where the lens could be moved independently of the film body to create perspective changes within the camera.  The technology was only adapted to smaller-format cameras, like those used by architectural photographers, in the 1960s.  On small cameras it is almost entirely accomplished through special lenses called “perspective control” or PC lenses, the first of which was developed by Nikon in 1962.  PC lenses have the ability to shift the lens up or down relative to the film.  A variant on this concept is the tilt-shift lens.  The “tilt-shift” name comes from the ability to rotate the lens plane relative to the image plane – the “tilt” – and to move the lens plane parallel to the image plane – the “shift”.  By shifting the lens plane up or down relative to the image plane, the photographer can control the perspective of the image taken, and this is how architectural photographers create their images.   Most architectural photographs are taken with the lens shifted upwards relative to the image plane, and so the camera’s film or sensor can be kept parallel to the subject, while the lens’ movement is used to position the subject within the image area.  Thus, all points on a subject remain the same distance from the camera and the shape of the subject is preserved and not foreshortened.  This eliminates the problem of tilting the camera to capture a building, and results in images where parallel lines remain parallel and walls do not seem to tilt inwards towards one another.

There is a wide gulf between a regular person taking a photo of a building on a regular camera or smartphone, and an architectural photographer doing it.  Professional building photographers have an arsenal of specialized equipment and techniques to make the most of their photos, and lend their work the extra sense of immersion and accuracy that traditional photography just can’t replicate.  An entire industry has developed around the photographing of buildings, and that industry will only continue to grow more advanced as new photographic technologies become available. 

Gable –  This image is an example of how a normal camera still create parallel vertical lines – this picture was taken with the camera held at arm’s-length above my head, decreasing vertical skew.

Gable – This image is an example of how a normal camera still create parallel vertical lines – this picture was taken with the camera held at arm’s-length above my head, decreasing vertical skew.

South –  A typical Broad Street shot showing the converging effect of a normal lens on perspective – note how the buildings seem to lean in towards each other.

South – A typical Broad Street shot showing the converging effect of a normal lens on perspective – note how the buildings seem to lean in towards each other.

all photos by Sam Katovitch. Sam uses REAL FILM.

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Road Trip Part 1: A Philly “Gem”

by Sara Pochedly

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Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park: (An afternoon adventure) A quick 30 minute drive from Center City, Philadelphia

You don’t really get to see a city until you have visitors.  Being a transplant to the city of Philadelphia, I have many friends and family members come to visit every year.  I have visited many of the well-known and recommended places on numerous occasions and was looking for something new.  I brought this up to the office to see if they had some off the beaten path recommendations, and Bart said “have you ever been to the Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue in Elkins Park?”  I looked at him quite puzzled—a Frank Lloyd Wright building so close?  I honestly didn’t have any recollection of hearing of this building before.  I have been to several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other buildings, including Fallingwater, his studio in Oak Park, Robie House, Unity Chapel and Guggenheim Museum and was very interested in learning more about his work close by.

A few weekends ago when my parents were in town, we made the trip to Beth Sholom Synagogue.  We had to order tickets in advance (which can be purchased through their website) and arrived for the last tour available on a Sunday afternoon.  To our surprise we had a private tour!

The tour included an introductory video and an exhibit which includes all the letters between Rabbi Cohen and Frank Lloyd Wright, and a walking tour through the main sanctuary and the lower level smaller sanctuary. Our docent was very knowledgeable and it was a very enjoyable tour.

Beth Sholom Synagogue was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last works.  He actually passed away while the project was under construction.  The main architectural feature of the building is a double-walled translucent roof structure with corrugated glass panels on the exterior and plastic panels on the interior.  This structure provides a variety of ever-changing lighting conditions that can be experienced by the users within.  At night when the synagogue is in use, it glows.  There are many other unique features and details including all of the custom designed door handles, the designed furniture pieces (many still have their original upholstery) and the star-shaped lighting on the lower level.

Beth Sholom Synagogue is located at 8231 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 and you can learn more at their website https://www.bethsholomcongregation.org/tour-beth-sholom and purchase tickets at https://www.bethsholompreservation.org/

I highly recommend checking this building out!  And thank you Bart for this wonderful recommendation!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

 

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Cheap Furniture (Vol. 1)

by Bart Bajda

Whoever said good looking furniture had to be expensive was a fool.  This series of posts will prove just that by showcasing furniture designed and built by me using readily accessible materials that can be found in most of your common hardware stores. 

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Volume 1 (many more to come) features a coffee table with a wood top and waterfall edge.  The ends are tapered to reveal the steel frame below.  A glass shelf sits below for additional storage. 

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The wood top and end are made from standard 2x4 studs glued together and doweled through at each end and the corner for a perfect alignment.  Now I understand pine is soft and dents fairly easily, but let’s be honest, I don’t know anyone who hacks away at frozen meat on their coffee table.  The steel frame is standard 3/4" steel angle cut to size, drilled, and held together with machine screws and nuts.  The frame was painted black and lightly sanded to reveal exposed steel at the edges.  The lower shelf is made of glass panels I had recovered for free from a local department store closing.  To prevent rattling and provide a little more protection, the glass rests on a rubber weather strip, typically used to seal windows, adhered to the lower frame. 

Now to prove my point, I’d like to give a material cost breakdown for this project.  Some people won’t factor in the miscellaneous glue, screws, etc. but for arguments sake I’ve tried to include every little bit not including the tools and equipment.  However, I will add that no heavy-duty commercial grade equipment was used as this was all done in my 12’ x12’ Philadelphia row home backyard. 

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*Glass can be substituted with acrylic or polycarbonate panels found in any common hardware store.

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Bart is the Toner Architects 2019 axe-throwing champion.                                          

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Backwoods Architecture Reclaimed by Nature

Sagged –   This house was originally at grade, but has sunk on settled foundations

Sagged – This house was originally at grade, but has sunk on settled foundations

Words and photos by Sam Katovitch

Every summer leading up to my permanent move to Philadelphia, my family would spend a week or more in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  We always took the same route every year, stayed at the same lodge, sang the same songs on the five-hour road trip, but climbed different mountains, kayaked different lakes, and walked different paths from the years before.  Ordinarily we would all go together on these adventures, but starting in 2016 I would drive myself since I had my own car – a beat-up old tank of a Subaru named Roz.  One day during the week we spent there in 2016, my family decided to spend the day recuperating from the hike we had taken the day before, but I was feeling antsy and decided to strike out on my own.  My fascination with abandoned buildings had also begun that year so my dad suggested I check out the old mining town at Tahawus.  Few photos of this can be found online, though some conservation is underway, mainly at the ironworks there.  I agreed it was a cool idea and set out with my film camera and hiking boots.

The nearest town to the abandoned mine was Newcomb, and then from there the road turned off into the wilderness and meandered another fifteen miles or so up into the High Peaks region – the road doubled as a trailhead for several High Peaks climbs, including Mt. Marcy.  After twisting through the woods for a few miles, I encountered the old railroad leading from the mines down to Raquette Lake, the nearest rail hub.  The road crossed the tracks twice as it wound its way through the woods.  It was clear that the tracks weren’t in service anymore, not since the mine’s closure in the 60s – the ties were rotted and the rails were rusty.  There was even a rusted barricade welded to one rail to stop stray train cars.  It was a strange feeling, being able to stop my car in the middle of the crossing and not worry about a train coming out of nowhere, and it made my hair stand up, just a little. 

Another mile or so down the road, I encountered a washout.  A stream had burst its banks further up the mountain to the left of the road and washed away the macadam entirely.  The other end of the break wasn’t visible.  I assessed the way forward and decided to try it.  My stubborn old Subaru and I battled through the washout for nearly a mile before the slide cleared and the road resumed.  I was tired and the wagon was spattered with mud but I pushed on.

Gleam –   The blast furnace was capped with Plexiglas for preservation

Gleam – The blast furnace was capped with Plexiglas for preservation

After some signs indicating the last trailhead, I saw the blast furnace, the only actively conserved part of the abandoned village.  It was a pillar of cut stone with a huge cavern in the base, and it was still soot-darkened even after years in the elements.  I regret that I didn’t take more pictures of the furnace but I was saving my energy and film, hoping for more luck at the ghost town further on. 

The ghost town itself was so much more than I could have expected.  I was anticipating a handful of buildings, all in varying states of disrepair.  Instead, I found a dozen intact buildings that had been opened by the elements, exposing their interiors to the outside, as well as the foundations and masonry from the old mill and waterwheel at the creek.  The rushing stream was full from the rain, but the piers of the mill still stood there, a dozen feet from the bank, and connected by a few crumbly arches of stone.  The creek bed was littered with fallen stones from masonry that had already perished. 

Demolition –   The plaster was mostly gone, exposing the lath and studs beneath

Demolition – The plaster was mostly gone, exposing the lath and studs beneath

The houses were mostly built between the 1940s and 60s, and the cheerful pinks and turquoises of the midcentury wallpaper and tiles were incongruous among the green of the forest, even as they were softened at the edges by the relentless work of the elements.  I didn’t go into any buildings for fear of falling through a floor and breaking my neck, but I used several rolls of film and took dozens of photos with my phone.  There is no conservation effort being made on the village itself, and the Park Service seems content to let the buildings fall into elegant – and photogenic – disrepair, ultimately being reclaimed by the forest. No doubt going back now, even only three years later, would yield a very different experience.  Seeing those old buildings as intact as they were was special, but being able to see the interiors from the exterior wasn’t promising of their overall integrity and life expectancy.  Nobody knows how many more harsh Adirondack winters the houses will survive until they’re nothing but foundation stones.

Tilt –   This house was on the verge of falling over into the road

Tilt – This house was on the verge of falling over into the road

I spent hours wandering around the old houses and offices, imagining what the lives that once occupied them must have been like.  Even now in this age of connectivity this place was basically off the edge of the map, so I could only imagine the isolation the miners must have experienced back in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  Eventually though, I made my way back to my car and returned the way I’d come.  Only when I got back across the washout ten miles later and received a dozen text messages all at once did I realize that I had had no cell service ever since passing the train tracks on the way in.              

Pipes I –   Shattered steam pipes near the foot of the blast furnace

Pipes I – Shattered steam pipes near the foot of the blast furnace

Pipes II –   Bellows pipes for pushing air into the blast furnace

Pipes II – Bellows pipes for pushing air into the blast furnace

Pipes III –   More bellows pipes

Pipes III – More bellows pipes

Stack –   The blast furnace as seen from the overlook above it, Cliff Mtn. and Redfield Mtn. beyond.

Stack – The blast furnace as seen from the overlook above it, Cliff Mtn. and Redfield Mtn. beyond.

Calamity –   The stream which powered the old waterwheels is called Calamity Brook.

Calamity – The stream which powered the old waterwheels is called Calamity Brook.

Order Up –   This was the part of the mess hall of the mining camp, order window and all.

Order Up – This was the part of the mess hall of the mining camp, order window and all.

Collapse –   Nobody knows how much longer these houses will stay standing.

Collapse – Nobody knows how much longer these houses will stay standing.

Sam is our resident film-camera expert. The images in this article were taken on film—yes, real film!

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Toner Architects in the News

We are really excited to share that we were featured in an article about Star Bolts from the well-known podcast 99% Invisible. As many of you know, the use of star bolts is helping us keep our existing and historic facades attached to our homes. They are a very common feature here in Philly—so common that Ian wrote about them back in 2013 right here on the blog. Check out the article by 99PI here.

If you want to read our original post, you can find it here.

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Brussels vs. Philadelphia

by David Fisher

A little over a year ago, I traveled to Belgium with my freshman-year roommate from Drexel University and his mother.  We stayed in Brussels and spent most of our time visiting local relatives of my friend and traveling around the country.  As the capital of Belgium and the seat of the European Union, Brussels is a city full of grand European architecture.  What piqued my interest, however, was the chaotic juxtaposition of architectural styles that are found all over the city.

The typical Brussels residential street contains a surprising diversity of housing styles that butt-up against one another quite literally.  Brussels is famous for Art-Nouveau and Art-Deco architecture that embodies the principles of Gesamtkunstwerk (A German word meaning: a complete work of art) found in many European houses from the early 20th Century.  Art-Nouveau architecture makes use of iron and woodwork in sinuous details on building facades and throughout interior fixtures and decor.  Details in these houses are often nature-inspired and contain imagery of plants and greenery as an incorporated form of art into the houses’ structure and expression.  Brussels is the birthplace of Art-Nouveau architecture and has a number of famous examples of the style scattered throughout the city.  Sadly, Art-Nouveau fell out of fashion in Europe and new forms of architecture replaced many existing Art-Nouveau structures.

Because of the ever-changing taste in architecture, Brussels has many streets with houses of all shapes, styles, and sizes all packed into rows.  As I walked or drove through the city, I could see a four-story Modern apartment building neighboring a very traditional three-story European townhouse, followed by a historic or recreated version of an Art-Nouveau house.  Rooflines constantly changed along the roads and almost no coherence between buildings could be seen most of the time.  It certainly creates a unique aesthetic to the city of Brussels, but it is not one that particularly appeals to me.

Art Nouveau architecture of Brussels

Art Nouveau architecture of Brussels

Apartments in Mantua

Apartments in Mantua

Having spent the past two years in Philadelphia, I have begun to notice some similarities between Brussels and the City of Brotherly Love.  Both cities have quite a rich history respectively, and contain vibrant city centers with large administrative buildings and sleek modern towers.  In the residential areas in both of the cities, various kinds of architectural styles can be found between neighboring houses in a row.  While Brussels has a bit more extreme of a difference between neighboring houses, I have found many interesting design decisions in Philadelphia on streets with traditional row house designs.  Mantua alone has a growing diversity in rowhouse styles and house types.  With Drexel University continuing to grow and influence the North end of West Philadelphia, many vacant lots are being used for new construction to house students.  New apartment buildings can be found scattered throughout the neighborhood now and the atmosphere of the neighborhood, architecturally, can be quite disorienting.  As you walk north from Drexel’s campus, dormitories become re-purposed manors, then rowhouses from a particular time period, then renovated or new buildings, and then the same or a different traditional style of rowhouse.  For the most part, streets remain architecturally consistent as you move east and west with a couple of variations between blocks, but much of Mantua has a mixed identity of what type of house you will see.

Building styles juxtaposed.

Building styles juxtaposed.

In the time that I’ve traveled to South Philadelphia to work here at Toner Architects, I have noticed that much of the city is experiencing this same recreation of streets into interesting combinations of rowhouse styles.  All around the city there are new breaks in the grid of the city and the rooflines of houses.  Almost every house in the city seems to have its own identity that either subtly changes the order of the street, or makes a noticeable statement of breaking away from the surrounding architectural context.  It would seem that the easiest way to observe the changes happening in the city, is to observe the decisions people make regarding the forms and styles of houses they occupy.

David is a a co-op student, attending Drexel University and working full-time as an architectural designer.

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Brewerytown – First Impressions

by Bart Bajda

I’d like to begin this by saying thank you to the City of Brotherly Love for the warm welcome it has given me since moving here and I mean that literally; the weather has been too hot for comfort.  Nonetheless, this is a tale of my venture to Philadelphia and my first impressions of the neighborhood I now call home. 

One of the first steps in moving to a new city is finding a place to hang your hat.  Everyone has their specific list of must-haves and deal breakers but unlike most, my criteria was pretty relaxed.  What can I say…I’m a simple man.  Some sort of backyard, storage space, and of course a low budget were my only requirements.  Not too familiar with the city, I set out on an apartment tour across many neighborhoods curated by a rental agent.  What I quickly found was that my neighborhood options were limited based on what I needed and what I was willing to pay.  Hence, I landed in Brewerytown…oh sweet B-town.  I’m told the entire area was completely populated with breweries before Prohibition killed the majority of the business.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood so gracefully named?  Right?  Apparently not.  When I began telling everyone the great news, to my surprise, not many knew where this even was.  Somehow this seemed to be uncharted territory, even for a few native Philadelphians.  Now as soon as I mentioned the new Aldi grocery store…the light bulb went off.  Nonetheless, I began having my doubts on whether this was a good decision. 

Fast forward a few months and the doubts have all quickly evaporated into thin air and I am overwhelmingly proud to call Brewerytown my home.  This neighborhood has thus far preserved a sense of grittiness and natural urban feel, not yet overtaken by the privileged (see definition of gentrification).  Just take a walk down Girard Avenue and you’ll see Rybrew, the sister sandwich shop to Rybread with an unbelievable beer selection, coexisting with the Girard Veterinary Clinic and Cycle Brewerytown on the same block.  Across the street, Spot Burger dishes out some of the finest patties between 2 buns that you’ll find in the city.  Within a 5 minute walk you’ll find other incredible businesses like Chez Novaks, Karma Pizza (formerly Uncle Nicks), Pizza Dads, Young’s Sneaker City, Electric Temple, Brewerytown Bicycles, Otto’s, 2637 Brew, Monkey and the Elephant, Era, Brewerytown Beats, and Crime and Punishment Brewing Co., triumphantly putting the “brewery” back in Brewerytown.  The list goes on and on and I haven’t even mentioned the quintessential corner stores (or as I like to call them…bodegas) that populate almost every other street corner. 

Green Eggs Cafe—coming soon.

Green Eggs Cafe—coming soon.

If you ask me, I’d say leave it the way it is, but for better or for worse there is a tremendous amount of new construction of all scales happening as I write this.  Almost every property on 31st street from Girard to Oxford St is currently under construction or has been within the last 3 years claiming the newly minted title of 31st Street Corridor.  For Pete’s sake, there’s a Green Eggs Café opening soon on Girard Ave.  Is it an ominous cloud of doom and development that hovers above Brewerytown, or is it the necessary next step that leads to success?  Only time will tell, but for now, I will enjoy my stay, listening to the charming rumble of the #15 trolley. 

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Bart Bajda an architect and lover of cold weather.

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An Architect’s Christmas Story

Warning:  If you believe in Santa, you may want to stop here. 

As the weather becomes crisp and cold, and the Christmas decorations begin to fill people’s homes and yards one particular childhood memory comes to mind. 

In the 80s my family and I lived in a small post-war suburb in Northeast Ohio. The house was a Cape-Cod and was very small and compact like many houses of that era. Due to its size, one very important design feature was left out. The house did not have a fireplace. By the age of 4 this became a very alarming issue, as all of the popular media suggested, Santa would park his sleigh on the roof and use the chimney to enter the house and deliver the presents. But since we did not have a chimney or a fireplace, how was Santa going to find us? We had family members and friends who had similar issues and seemed to resolve this by purchasing a cardboard fireplace set. But on several occasions at the store, my sister and I had requested we purchase a fireplace set, and were very disappointed when my Mom said no. 

As Christmas grew closer the fireplace issue became a continuous conversation and I believe it became very frustrating to my parents. So, my dad bundled my sister and I up in our winter coats and boots and we made a trip into the backyard. He then pointed to the roof where a small black pipe was sticking up above the roof and told us that is where Santa enters, its like a chimney just smaller and since Santa is magic, he will have no issue finding his way into the house. This explanation made sense and we were satisfied that Santa would find us. And he did that Christmas!

See, they even have cardboard chimneys in South Philly!

See, they even have cardboard chimneys in South Philly!

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Fast forward approximately 15 years, at this point I am 20 years old attending Kent State for Architecture. During our 3rd year we have to take an Environmental Technology course. This course is our introduction to building systems such as heating and cooling, plumbing, electric etc. We begin our plumbing course work and we are learning how all of the toilets and sinks are connected to a sanitary line and to maintain the pressure balance in the pipes the sanitary lines are connected to a vent stack which extends through the roof. At this point I suddenly realize that all those years before, while standing in the backyard, my Dad was actually telling us that Santa went down the vent stack and then would have to make his grand entrance into the house…..through the toilet! I was shocked!

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In recent years we have talked about family memories from past holidays and I asked my Dad if he remembered telling us this. Sadly, he does not remember this event, but he does admit that it sounds like something he would have done. We all did get a great laugh and now have a great family story to share!

Happy Holidays!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer, and Sustainable Designer with lots of Christmas Spirit!

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South Philly Smokhaus is Now Open

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

by Sara Pochedly

We are really excited to announce that South Philly Smokhaus is now open!  Eric Daelhousen came to us 2 years ago with a plan of opening South Philly Smokhaus, and after considering several locations, all in South Philly, he decided to make his home here at Bok! (Which is really convenient for the Toner Team and anyone visiting us, since he is our downstairs neighbor.) 

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

If you follow the lingering aroma of burning wood that brings memories of family gatherings and great food it will lead you to the doorstep of South Philly Smokhaus. The smoker is burning around the clock so that they can offer a wide variety of smoked meats including brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and chicken quarters. In addition to the meat offerings there are a variety of sandwiches, sides and desserts. The full menu can be found at https://www.southphillysmokhaus.com. I am certain that you will find something you will like! In my opinion, there is no wrong choice, everything that we have sampled has been delicious.

As an added bonus Giunta’s Prime of Reading Terminal market has opened up its own separate counter, called Passio Prime, inside the South Philly Smokhaus restaurant bringing a delightful selection of fresh meats to the neighborhood.

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

From a design perspective Eric did something really special by engaging a variety of companies here at Bok to help actualize the restaurant. Each company/designer brought a specific touch and combined together provided a refined version of a traditional Barbecue aesthetic.  The team included:

Architecture: Toner Architects – www.tonerarch.com

Interior design, furniture selection: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

South Philly Smokhaus keychains: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

Decorative paint: Done + Dusted - www.doneanddusted.us

Feature light fixture: Remark Glass - www.remarkglass.com

Countertops and tabletops: Bicyclette Furniture - www.bicyclettefurniture.com     

Sandwich bread: Machine Shop Boulangerie - www.machineshopphilly.com                    

Photography: Stevie Chris - www.steviechris.com

We recommend you stop by and grab a bite, and promise you won’t be disappointed.  But, please plan ahead and get there early, because they have been selling out daily!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer, Sustainable Designer and a secretly aspiring food critic.

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Open House!

Mark your calendars, save the date!  Toner Architects will be opening our office doors for Bok Night from 4-7 on Friday, October 12 for Design Philadelphia.  Please stop by for a visit!

You’ll get a chance to see our new office and have a look at what we’ve been working on. While you’re here, you can check out our office-mate Chris Landau’s work, as well.

We are located in Bok (A hub for Design Philadelphia this year) at

1901 South 9th Street (corner of 9th and Mifflin)
Room 425
Philadelphia, PA 19148

In addition to our open house there will be multiple other companies hosting events that night at Bok including but not limited to:

Bicyclette Furniture

Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles

Gnome Architects

JV Collective

Klip Collective

Lobo Mau

made@bok

Milder Office Inc.

Mozilla

Nuance Jewelry

Remark Glass

Roantree Weaves

Stover Ceramics

Urban Aesthetics

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We've Moved!

by Sara Shonk Pochedly

We are very excited to announce that WE HAVE MOVED!  (Same building, new office space)

As of Friday June 1, 2018, we are now located at:

1901 S. 9th Street (Bok) Room 425, Philadelphia, PA 19148

We are up to a staff of 6! And even though we loved our old space in the “Entry Room” it was just getting too tight for us all!  We are now located on the 4th floor, directly above our previous space. 

The hallway outside our office. Look at that great terrazzo floor!

The hallway outside our office. Look at that great terrazzo floor!

Below are some photos of our space before construction started:

Sort of a mess . . .

Sort of a mess . . .

Hmmmm . . . maybe some new paint would help?

Hmmmm . . . maybe some new paint would help?

Instead of having one big room we divided the original science lab space into two rooms--our main office and a conference room.  Here are a few photos from during construction.

Looking better already.

Looking better already.

Conference room taking shape.

Conference room taking shape.

One of the new features we added to the space is an antique door we found at Provenance.  We wanted to find something that felt like it belonged in the building and I think we found a good match.  Below is a photo of Ian with our new door.

That's an 8-foot door right there.

That's an 8-foot door right there.

Our new office is located in the science wing and has many of the original details such as the casework with black resin tops, a lab sink, gas nozzles and clock.

Finished conference room.

Finished conference room.

The team in action.

The team in action.

Love those original details.

Love those original details.

Another great perk is the view!

Peeking out over the old boiler room to the South Philly skyline.

Peeking out over the old boiler room to the South Philly skyline.

The building has a great rhythm of windows and brick pilasters (and air conditioning units!). You can also see Sara's fun self-portrait reflected in the glass.

The building has a great rhythm of windows and brick pilasters (and air conditioning units!). You can also see Sara's fun self-portrait reflected in the glass.

A little bit about Bok (The building where our offices are located)

Bok was originally a City of Philadelphia technical high school that was designed by Architect Irwin Catharine and completed in 1938.  The School District closed Bok in 2013 and it was re-opened by Scout as a mixed-use building in 2015.  Toner Architects was in the first group of tenants to move into the building!  Since the building was previously a high school there are a variety of types of “school” spaces in the building, including two gyms, an auditorium, locker rooms, a lunch room, science rooms, a library, and spaces for the technical high school program including wood shops, machine shops, automotive shop, and a beauty salon.  Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, a good amount of the original detailing is still intact!  There are currently approximately 100 diverse tenants in the building offering a wide array of different products and services available.  Our neighbors include a glass blower, a bakery, a salon, a tattoo parlor, a catering company, a boxing gym, several wood workers, and photographers just to name a few!  We also have a rooftop bar! In our opinion we have the best view of the city skyline from the 8th Floor!

Please feel free to stop by for a visit any time!

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Restarting the Blog!

Well, it's been quite a while since my last entry. It's definitely been a busy year since then. We've added staff, taken on lots of new projects, been published, and even taken some time off. I'll write more about all of it in future posts.

Now that we have five (five!) of us in the office, we've decided to have everyone participate in the content you see here. Going forward, you'll see posts from everyone, on a variety of topics. Each post will have the author noted, so you can follow your favorite writer if you want to. Enjoy!

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we know it's a mess

and we're working on it . . .

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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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