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Things We Do: Zoning Plans

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

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

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

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

 

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Things We Do: Legalizations

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

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

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

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Good Design Can Happen Anywhere

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

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New Facade on South Street

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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Our Team is Growing!

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

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

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

Welcome Sara!

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Demolition Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tilton Street Residence

the front--just before it was completed

the front--just before it was completed

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

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

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

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

the facade, just before completion

the facade, just before completion

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

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

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

a nice, clean finished basement

a nice, clean finished basement

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

foundation excavation gets started

foundation excavation gets started

basement walls are poured

basement walls are poured

framing in progress--starting the third floor

framing in progress--starting the third floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

view of the Center City skyline from the roof

view of the Center City skyline from the roof

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Things We Do: Work in New Jersey

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

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

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Project Update: 10th Street Facade Renovation

existing conditions

existing conditions

the completed facade

the completed facade

the new facade in context with its neighbor

the new facade in context with its neighbor

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

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

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

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

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Cumberland Street Residence

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

kitchen

kitchen

large master bath with double vanity and walk-in shower

large master bath with double vanity and walk-in shower

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

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

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

Cumberland Street facade; sidewalk is going back in

Cumberland Street facade; sidewalk is going back in

Kudos to Red Oak Development on another great project.

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Things We Do: Permits

assembling permit materials for five current projects

assembling permit materials for five current projects

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

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

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

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

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Things We Do: Lot Subdivisions & Consolidations

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

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

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

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Our New Home

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

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

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

It was a little messy.

It was a little messy.

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

Planning ahead is a good idea.

Planning ahead is a good idea.

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

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

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

See you soon!

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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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Historic Technique

Back in February, I told you about a project we were working on on North 21st Street (the one that needed Historical Commission approvals--remember?) Well, construction has begun. We had a group meeting with the client, framers, and the plumber on site yesterday, to figure out some strategies for how we'll coordinate everything. These meetings can be crucial, to make sure that everyone knows what needs to happen, and how to avoid making problems for each other.

I also got a chance to see how the original builders made an arched recess between two closets. This is a common thing in older homes--two closets on the side wall, with an archway in between where a piece of furniture or shelves might go. This one is all done with wood lath and plaster. Unfortunately, the new design can't accommodate the original arch; instead, we'll be exposing the brick on this wall during the renovation. But it's fun to see how these things were originally achieved.

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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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