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AIA Philadelphia

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Spring 2018 – IN THIS ISSUE In this issue of Context we offer a few interesting perspectives in the broad and complex topic of housing.

FEATURES 12 Infill, Blocks + Leftovers How Philadelphia's grid and rowhouse tradition interact to create exciting design opportunities


16 Philadelphia's Mission-Driven Developers How developers are filling the gap between housing need and available funding.


20 Certified – The Case for Passive House How scaling up makes certified status competitive

ON THE COVER From rowhomes to skyscrapers, housing in Philadelphia. Cover graphic designed by Elizabeth Paul

CONTEXT is published by

AIA Philadelphia

24 Housing and Economic Growth in Philadelphia Detailed analysis of Philadelphia's complex housing market

A Chapter of the American Institute of Architects 1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-569-3186, The opinions expressed in this – or the representations made by advertisers, including copyrights and warranties, are not those of the editorial staff, publisher, AIA Philadelphia, or AIA Philadelphia’s Board of Directors. All rights reserved. Reproduction in part or whole without written permission is strictly prohibited. Postmaster: send change of address to AIA Philadelphia,

1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 Published MARCH 2018

AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  3

2018 BOARD OF DIRECTORS Karen Blanchard, AIA, President John B. Campbell, AIA, ARIAS, RIBA, LEED AP, President-Elect Troy Hannigan, Assoc. AIA, Treasurer Frank Grauman, FAIA, Past President | Secretary Kelly Vresilovic, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Catherine (Katie) Broh, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Paul Avazier, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, Chapter Director

Structural Engineering and Design Evaluation of Existing Structures Due Diligence Studies Historic Preservation Expert Testimony Façade Investigation

Soha St. Juste, AIA, Chapter Director Sarah Soh, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Robert Shuman, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Stephen Kuttner Potts, AIA, Chapter Director Sherman Aronson, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Erin Roark, AIA, LEED AP, Chapter Director Jeff Goldstein, AIA, Chapter Director Jeff Pastva, AIA, AIA PA Director Alesa Rubendall, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, PA Director

new address effective August 1, 2016

1new 1 Waddress . T H O effective M P S O NAugust S T R E1,E2016 T


Rich Vilabrera, Jr., Assoc. AIA, Associate Director David Golden, Assoc. AIA, Associate Director Tya Winn, Public Member Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director

CONTEXT EDITORIAL BOARD Rediscover the Many Benefits of Concrete Block.

CO-CHAIRS Harris M. Steinberg, FAIA, Drexel University Todd Woodward, AIA, SMP Architects

BOARD MEMBERS Wolfram Arendt, AIA, LAYER Architecture William W. Braham, Ph.D., FAIA, University of Pennsylvania David Brownlee, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Jon Coddington, AIA, Drexel University Susan Miller Davis, AIA Daryn Edwards, AIA, CICADA Architecture Planning Sally Harrison, AIA, Temple University Timothy Kerner, AIA, Terra Studio

Single Wythe Concrete Masonry is not only innovative, it’s also fire safe, affordable and beautiful. Visit our online Design Resource Center for the very latest in masonry design information - videos, BIM resources, design notes, and CAD and Revit® tools.

Elizabeth Miller, Community Design Collaborative


Rachel Simmons Schade, AIA, Drexel University

Stephen P. Mullin, Econsult Corporation Rashida Ng, RA, Temple University Jeff Pastva, AIA, Bright Common Richard Roark, ASLA, Olin David Zaiser, AIA, Whitman Requardt and Associates LLP

STAFF Rebecca Johnson, AIA Philadelphia Executive Director

Elizabeth Paul, Managing Editor Laurie Churchman, Designlore, Art Director

4  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia


Making Housing Better for Everyone JEFF PASTVA, AIA Bright Common CONTEXT Editorial Board DAVID ZAISER, AIA, LEED AP Associate, Whitman Requardt and Associates LLP CONTEXT Editorial Board

Since 2006, when Philadelphia’s population reversed a decades-long decline, housing construction has been on the rise. Today, housing values are at an all-time high, with increases within the City limits outpacing those in the nearby suburbs. Home sales are also up – way up. These are all signs of a healthy housing market, but there are several concerns that could derail this success story: •

Poverty continues to be a problem. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, almost 26% of the City’s population lives below the Federal poverty level.

Over 50% of Philadelphians pay more than 30% of their income on rent, while over 30% of Philadelphians spend more than 50% of their income on rent.

Gentrification is a double whammy. It eliminates affordable housing (Philadelphia lost 20% of its affordable housing between 2000 and 2014) and pushes low income families further away from neighborhoods that are close to well-paying jobs. The combination contributes to a transit burden that results in both longer and more expensive commutes.

There is a severe rental property shortage. According to HUD, Philadelphia needs 38,000 additional rental units right now.

An increase in deferred maintenance is trapping homeowners who cannot afford to complete the needed upgrades, or find affordable housing elsewhere.

Many neighborhoods lack functioning streets – where housing is part of a healthy mix of retail, commercial, and institutional activity that supports the resident interaction that builds community.

Obviously, architects can’t be expected to solve all these problems, but we are in a unique position to understand and to influence policies and practices that positively impact them. We can (and frequently do) play major roles in influencing the development of zoning laws, building codes, and public policy that can make a big difference in what housing does (or does not) get built. When we work diligently to integrate the needs of our communities with our client’s vision, we not only ensure project success, we help make housing better for everyone. Housing design plays a role too. Architects are already at the creative edge in developing new typologies that support affordability while continuing to address economic realities: micro-housing, live-work and mixed zoning developments, and rowhouse redevelopment are just a few examples. Architects are also advancing new technologies like wood-frame high-rise structures, high-performance building envelopes and rain screen systems that add value by lowering first-cost, addressing sustainability, improving energy efficiency or lowering maintenance and operational costs. In this issue of CONTEXT, we offer a few interesting perspectives in the broad and complex topic of housing. We hope you enjoy it. n AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  5

COMMUNITY AIA Philadelphia

Hello Friends and Colleagues: Welcome to Spring and to the last CONTEXT Letter where I mention the strategic planning process. Maybe. Ha! It’s been almost a two-year process in re-positioning our chapter to be more relevant to our members and to our community. One of the most tangible changes that will continue to shape this is our local Advocacy agenda and activities – please mark your calendars for our Annual Meeting on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 to hear a presentation on our Strategic Plan, including our Advocacy Agenda and take a copy home. As part of the Advocacy Agenda – addressing housing in Philadelphia is a topic that AIA Philadelphia will be more involved in. As the articles and the book review of The Color of Law in this issue of CONTEXT illustrate the “problem” of housing in Philadelphia and almost everywhere else is multifaceted: it’s not efficient; it’s deteriorating; there are not enough units for population increases in the next 40 years; and it’s not affordable. Solving all of these housing-related problems requires more than just architects, but it should certainly include architects. AIA Philadelphia intends to make sure that our members are active in the policy discussions and decisions around housing policy. Reading through the articles in this issue of CONTEXT, it’s very clear to me that we are in this situation through very intentional policies and we have to be just as intentional to get out of this situation. We have to be intentional about how architects work with owners and general contractors in building affordable housing. We know and understand why it is good public policy to have competitively bid projects when public dollars are used. But if architects and general contractors can work together from the very beginning of affordable housing projects, we have a greater likelihood of delivering more affordable housing units on budget and on time. Therefore, how can we make that happen and still comply with our competitive bid requirements? We have to be intentional about policies that require and incentivize passive house retrofits for our rowhomes. We have to be intentional about policies, like the Healthy Rowhouse

SAVE THE DATE! On April 24 from 4:30 7:30 PM, AIA Philadelphia members are invited to attend the Annual Meeting to recognize our volunteers and hear about the current state of the Chapter as well as highlights from our partner organizations the Philadelphia Center for Architecture and Design, Community Design Collaborative, and Charter High School for Architecture and Design. This year we will also be incorporating our Committee Open House. Registration is required, visit the AIA Philadelphia website to learn more.

Project, that provide options for lower income households to repair their homes and stay in them, instead of letting them deteriorate. We have to be intentional about how to best design and implement a zoning or other policy scheme here in Philadelphia to provide more housing options for Philadelphians in every income bracket. Hope to see you all on April 24, 2018 for our Annual Meeting and Committee Open House.

AIA Pennsylvania


Rebecca Johnson Executive Director AIA Philadelphia Center / Architecture + Design

6  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia

Take Action with AIA PA during Architects Action Day on April 17. Meet with your state legislators to discuss state policies impacting your profession. Earn CEU's by taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol building. You do not want to miss this event. Visit the AIA PA website to learn more.



Join the Center for Architecture and Design on Thursday, May 3, for our 33rd Louis I. Kahn Memorial Award + Talk honoring architect Sir David Adjaye OBE. At the event, Sir Adjaye will discuss his work, his process, and offer insights into his vision for designing inspirational architectural spaces. Join us before the talk for a VIP reception to meet the speaker and enjoy heavy hors d'oeuvres and an open bar (VIP ticket required). Visit the Center's website for more information and to purchase your ticket. Sir Adjaye is the principal and founder of Adjaye Associates. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, his broadly ranging influences, ingenious use of materials, and sculptural ability have established him as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision. His largest project to date, the $540 million Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened on the National Mall in Washington DC in fall of 2016 and was named Cultural Event of the Year by the New York Times. In 2017, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME magazine. This annual event raises funds to support the Charter High School for Architecture + Design, a legacy project of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects founded in 1999.

As the city finalizes its 2018-2019 budget, and at this critical juncture in the Philadelphia story, the Design Advocacy Group (DAG) is calling for enhanced funding for the new Department of Planning & Development. For decades, and despite valiant efforts and many successes, Philadelphia’s planning, development and housing agencies were largely faced with managing the city’s seemingly inexorable decline. Now, the fundamentals are altogether different. The city’s population is growing. Many languishing neighborhoods are seeing new investment. Construction abounds. The charge before DPD, created in 2015 by a public vote and implemented in 2017 by the Kenney administration, is now to manage growth and, with it, new challenges including gentrification, affordable housing, historic preservation, persistent poverty and, of particular concern to DAG, high-quality urban design. As Philadelphia continues on its upward economic trajectory and its population grows, the city faces a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape its progress to benefit all its residents in all neighborhoods through a coordinated and cohesive approach to planning and development.

The DPD is uniquely positioned to do that. Comprising the Art Commission, Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Development Services, Division of Housing and Community Development, Historical Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, DPD touches virtually every aspect of planning and regulating growth in the physical city. Yet most of these operational units are seriously underfunded. DAG frequently critiques the decisions and actions, or inaction, of the DPD. As watchdogs and advocates, that is as it should be and it will continue. But at the same time, DAG fully recognizes how urgently DPD and its operational units require sufficient funding – now – in order to rise to the vast number of urgent challenges before them as the city emerges from decades of torpor. Only DPD is in the position to coordinate a citywide approach to smart and deliberative growth with effectual planning, quality design and sound implementation.

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COMMUNITY ON BOARD FOR COMMUNITY DESIGN The Community Design Collaborative is pleased to welcome Kevin Flynn, David Gest, and Lea Oxenhandler to its 2018 Board of Directors. Kevin Flynn, PE, LEED AP is Vice President with AKRF, Inc., where he specializes in water resources and land development. “My work supporting the Philadelphia Water Department’s green infrastructure operation and maintenance program over the last eight years has taken me to nearly every neighborhood, commercial corridor, and public space across the City,” he says. “We’re frequently visiting these spaces to maintain green infrastructure assets and interacting with neighbors and community members in the process. I’ve seen firsthand how physical changes to public spaces – streetscapes, parks, schoolyards, etc. – and a shared commitment to maintenance and care of these public assets have a positive impact on a community in a relatively short time.” “Design is inspired problem solving. And you don’t have to be an architect or landscape architect or engineer to be an inspired problem solver. When nonprofit organizations and community members see their inspirations and ideas take form through design there’s an incredible momentum paired with new knowledge on how a make the project a reality.”

"WHEN NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS SEE THEIR INSPIRATIONS AND IDEAS TAKE FORM THROUGH DESIGN THERE’S AN INCREDIBLE MOMENTUM." Kevin Flynn, PE, LEED AP David Gest, Esq. is a land use and real estate attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP, where he provides legal advice to real estate developers, governmental agencies, and nonprofits on land use, zoning, and historic preservation issues, and 8  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia

works with community groups and public agencies toward approval of development projects. “I’ve been interested in architecture and urban planning for many years,” he says. “I was an architecture undergraduate major and went to PennDesign for urban planning. I first developed an interest in city planning while working with the Housing Authority of New Haven during college and learning about the HOPE VI public housing program.” “The design of public or communal spaces is crucial to a city's quality of life. Thoughtful, inclusive design of these places provides communities with safe areas for recreation and play and the opportunity for people who might not otherwise interact to communicate and learn from each other.”

"THE DESIGN OF PUBLIC OR COMMUNAL SPACES IS CRUCIAL TO A CITY'S QUALITY OF LIFE." David Gest, Esq. Lea Oxenhandler, AIA, LEED AP is serving as an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow and Architect/Design Manager at People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation (PECCDC). Her work focuses on the redevelopment of commercial properties for community benefit and the rehabilitation of affordable housing throughout the West Philadelphia neighborhoods that her organization serves. She also engages residents in PECCDC's creative placemaking efforts throughout the community. Her current practice is a natural outgrowth of her professional experience. “While working at KieranTimberlake from 2011 through 2017, I helped found a Community Involvement group at the firm that takes on various pro bono and non-traditional design projects,” she says. “This allowed me to lead the Reactivating Vacant Schools design charrette hosted by the Community Design Collaborative in 2014. That was my first foray in working with community

organizations, which I continue to enjoy very much!” “Design plays an essential role in revitalizing communities. While nonprofits and communities often have funding sources lined up, designers can add immense value to any project. Design thinking and visualization skills can help guide organizations to create visible, lasting changes in their neighborhoods and maximize their impact.”

"DESIGN THINKING AND VISUALIZATION SKILLS CAN HELP GUIDE ORGANIZATIONS TO CREATE VISIBLE, LASTING CHANGES IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS AND MAXIMIZE THEIR IMPACT." Lea Oxenhandler, AIA, LEED AP Kevin, David, and Lea join the Collaborative’s Board of Directors, which also includes Jody Arena, Caritas Construction, LLC; Modesto Bigas-Valedon, AIA, WRT; Julie Bush, ASLA, Ground Reconsidered Landscape Architecture; Tavis Dockwiller, ASLA, Viridian Landscape Studio; Daryn Edwards, AIA, CICADA Architecture/Planning; Jeff Goldstein, AIA, DIGSAU Architecture/ Urbanism; Carol Horne Penn, Clemens Construction; Lee Huang, Econsult Solutions, Inc.; Rebecca Johnson, AIA Philadelphia; Robert Leonard, Esq., Volpe and Koenig; PC; Megan McGinley, AIA, Kitchen & Associates; Darrick Mix, Esq., Duane Morris LLP; Charles Moleski, Becker & Frondorf; Paul Sehnert, University of Pennsylvania; Maria Sourbeer, Shift Capital; Julie Wiley, PE, Temple University; and Richard Winston, AIA, BWA architecture + planning.

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“ON JANUARY 20TH, JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY HAD A PORTFOLIO REVIEW DAY. THERE WERE 70 OTHER KIDS THERE. MAJORITY OF THEM WERE FROM JERSEY, NEW YORK, AND MY SISTER AND I WERE THE ONLY ONES FROM PHILADELPHIA. AFTER EVERYONE’S PORTFOLIO WAS REVIEWED, THE DEAN SHOWED A FEW PIECES THAT WERE RECOGNIZED ON A BIG SCREEN. AT THE END THEY PICKED 4 PEOPLE WHO’S WORK STOOD OUT THE MOST AND I WAS ONE OF THEM.” Amani Ryan, CHAD Class of 2018. Go ahead, read that again. It’s a good story. It’s a success story. It comes from a young woman, quiet and demure, who burst into the classroom before classes began on a recent Monday morning. She exclaimed, “I won an award!” Her portfolio, the fruit of an admirable work ethic, was lifted above her peers and commended. The impact is immeasurable. Doubts and misgivings are obliterated. Possibility blooms. As CHAD seniors start to sharpen focus upon their soon-to-be post high school lives, they learn a new kind of lesson. They learn about what they already know. They learn how unique that knowledge is for a teenager. The CHAD design curriculum is a robust and methodical progression of courses spanning freshmen through senior years. Students begin with a series of short, nine-week courses. These courses introduce elements, principles, concepts, and skills. Then, as the students matriculate into upper grade levels, they begin to explore design disciplines. Four years later, this culminates with each senior pursuing a year long major in a specific design discipline at CHAD. There are eight design majors: Architecture, Environment, Fashion, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Industrial and Product Design, Interpretive Design, and Mechanical Design (think Physics and lots of moving parts, not HVAC.) The curriculum is designed to prepare students to become problem solvers. They become design thinkers with a special approach to

complex challenges. It is their special skill, a unique tool in their toolbox, to utilize in college studies or in a trade vocation. Often, CHAD seniors are producing work on par with first year college level design programs. A faculty person will tell a student this, and the student usually doesn’t believe the faculty member. Then that student has an experience like Amani’s, and suddenly it’s all different. It’s true. It’s real. It’s not an exaggeration. There is nothing fake about their abilities, about what they can do with their own hands. They’ve been practicing everyday. Centrally located, just a block from the Liberty Bell, students gather from fifty-one zip codes into CHAD’s classrooms and common areas. They work and they make. When the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects founded the school in 1999, the terms ‘maker space’ and ‘design thinking’ were either nascent or non-existent. These concepts are now common subjects in K-12 education dialogues. CHAD’s been at the vanguard from the beginning. But CHAD doesn’t have a Maker Space; it IS a Maker Space. CHAD’s students are mostly inner city, urban youths who enter the school through a lottery. It is a tuition free, public school of choice with no application requirements. Students often enter the school with little to no knowledge about design careers and professions. Some may have had an art program in middle school, perhaps 45 minutes once a week. Students might like to draw or make stuff. If they know about

the school, they apply. Then there’s a lottery. That’s it. Towards the end of a CHAD student’s tenure, the college quest gains momentum. As part of this search, every year, groups of seniors travel to universities near and far, often for overnight visits hosted by schools for CHAD students. These are intensive trips. There is a taste of dorm life and dorm food. There are tours, interviews, information sessions, and financial aid reviews, all with the prospect of possible admission to college. The critical moment, however, is visiting the college’s design studios. Until there is a comparative context, the students don’t know what they know. And this is a revelation: they know stuff. On a recent trip to Marywood University, located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, CHAD students toured the Architecture studios. The sunlit spaces were littered with the debris from a recent final review charrette. Anyone in design knows this scene. The students wandered between the tables and stools strewn about, taking in the models and drawings laying everywhere. It felt familiar. Finally, in mild disbelief, a CHAD student exclaimed, “Yo, Mr. Phil, this looks like what we do in your class.” “I know! It’s what I’ve been telling you, you’re doing college level work.” That’s the moment. This student suddenly imagines being at that desk, sitting on that stool, and doing this work in this college. In other words, being one of them. AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  9



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Fifty years. Five decades. The golden anniversary. No matter how it’s quantified, when applied to the length of a career, it is an overwhelming number. One that is more easily defined by eras and has the potential to be boiled down to a few standout highlights. However, the beauty behind the number is that it represents a lifetime of achievements and experiences that amount to an institutional level of knowledge. One that can not only serve the individual who attains them, but the public good as well. Six years ago, Philadelphia instituted a zoning procedure called the Civic Design Review (CDR) to provide a platform for industry professionals to vet and encourage development that contributes in a meaningful way. It came on the heels of a city, and a recession, that was willing to take anything that contributed to economic development or an increased tax base. Architecture that should have lasted for the next fifty years was being built with the foresight of the next six months. It was time for the city to reclaim some level of care and it needed representatives who understood the broader impact that large scale developments were having on public space, especially at the scale of the neighborhood. This is where those fifty years becomes an irreplaceable asset. Years that allowed for experimentation working as a developer, studying under Lou Kahn, and writing proposals for the nascent Center City District to inform urban policy – all experiences that Cecil Baker brought with him to the CDR as one of the original six permanent members of the review panel that uniquely positioned him to be one of our municipal guardians on the front lines of design. Cecil and the rest of the review panel have witnessed a wide array of projects over these past few years as the scale of developments have increasingly become more substantial. This is partly a result of a more robust economy and a demand for housing, but also a zoning code overhaul that included many sweeteners to build bigger, taller, and denser projects. So

far, the process has been mostly positive, but the code provisions have almost worked too well. In some cases, developers have assembled enough land to take full advantage of the codified bonuses, granting them a by-right project, free of the more restrictive, and public, variance process. For most project typologies, an institutional expansion within a campus for example, there is little community objection to new development. In contrast, housing attracts much more attention because it almost always hits the neighborhood flashpoint issues of parking, building height or density; all items that were retooled in 2012 that allowed less of the former and more of the latter. This has resulted in a confluence of conflicting interests: neighborhood wants, development team needs, and public officials’ desire for smart, standardized planning across the city. For better or worse, this new process has left the CDR panel in the middle as the referee as one of the few checks and balances on how code conforming projects impact their surroundings. However, the panel is limited in their enforcement of recommendations and most projects only make token changes before being allowed to submit for a building permit. Despite the limitations and skirmishes that have peppered zoning meetings through the city, there is hope that the process can work seamlessly. That answer lies in hiring good architects who understand the challenges and are sensitive to all parties. According to Cecil, he has seen this first hand and there is a direct correlation between the best projects he has reviewed and the quality of the architect on the project. When asked for a telltale sign that a project will successfully navigate all the competing interests, he responded simply that “they have already done it”. It being that they have related to the context and have been respectful of their neighbors. He went on to further say, “They relate to the scale that is up and down the street. They reestablish the scale and proportion that allows for extra height or density if appropriate, with sensitive setbacks

and articulations. They are, in fact, good urbanists, who shepherd the fragile democracies of our impacted neighborhoods.” It sounds simple, but having the right team in place goes a long way in addressing difficult project issues. Cecil ran into a difficult situation with the typology of micro-housing in the past few years. Neither the CDR, nor the zoning code, can regulate nuances in use, provided the project meets the code intent. In this instance, the architecture itself isn’t nearly as important as the operational team behind the development. Neighbors may go full NIMBY (not in my backyard) because of a project’s identification with hot button issues like workforce or student housing; however, a good owner and a good developer can make even these contentious projects work to the benefit of the neighborhood. It’s increasingly an important conversation to have because Cecil feels strongly that we should have ways of getting micro-units into our communities precisely because it promotes workforce or subsidized housing. It’s part of a comprehensive housing solution that can help the city dig out of the current shortage. While there are always going to be disagreements between development teams and communities or ways for developers to subvert the law, it’s important to have dedicated, experienced, and thoughtful citizens like Cecil fighting for the greater good. The architectural community and the city is in a better position because of the service he and his fellow panelists have provided. If there is one thing that would make his work easier, however, it would be to empower good architects to lead these complex developments, so the discussions at CDR can elevate to the next level instead of pointing out basic tenets. n Jeff Pastva, AIA, is a project architect at Bright Common, treasurer of AIA Pennsylvania, and editor in chief of the College of Fellows Newsletter.

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Transatlantic exterior. Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Completed 2017.

BY BRIAN PHILLIPS, AIA AND DEB KATZ, AIA 12  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia



GRID CITY Philadelphia is a city of rowhouses. Unlike most major American cities where urban housing typically takes the form of an apartment in a high-rise, triple-decker, duplex, or other multi-family building, the majority of Philadelphians live in attached houses with rear gardens and front stoops. The expectation of owning a home on a block in a neighborhood is unique to Philadelphia, with only Baltimore coming close to such a pervasive, rowhouse-driven cityscape. Rowhouses organize the urban fabric into a grid of social and architectural diversity that promotes small-scale, innovative development opportunities and represents a link across multiple generations of urban populations. The typical 16-foot-wide by 60-foot-long parcel arrayed across Philadelphia’s 140 square miles distributes some 400,000 rowhouses in a remarkably dense and consistent pattern. This gridiron fabric operates as a framework for democratic design experimentation. A diverse collection of demographics and points of view coexist within a highly regular and connected spatial pattern, creating a collective social and urban fabric that still allows room for individual voice and unique expression. Philadelphia’s grid, once packed cheek to jowl with houses, schools, corner stores, parks, taverns and churches, has vacated dramatically since 1950. Historical disinvestment left behind many challenges, but also created a range of opportunities in its wake. While the city lost nearly a quarter of its peak population by the late 20th century, in the last twenty years its fortunes have reversed, with millennials moving in and new housing starts infilling the pockmarked fabric with development. ISA’s local housing practice has viewed Philadelphia’s urban grid as a lab for new housing strategies. The office designs housing that explores the possibilities of the city’s fabric, reoccupying the grid with new rowhouses tailored to 21st century living as well as higher density configurations that seek new modes of controlling market pressures within the existing grid. The vacant land inventory of Philadelphia is legendary, and is often seen as a negative influence on neighborhoods and communities rather than a unique and varied urban condition with potential for innovation. While vacancy can and does negatively impact neighborhoods, it can also create opportunities, such as informal green spaces for community events, expanded yards for homeowners, and low-cost sites for development experimentation. ISA has identified three categories of development sites that represent gaps in Philadelphia’s fabric with the potential for housing innovation: INFILL – These are individual parcels embedded between existing intact homes within a block. They are often constrained by tight construction clearances, foundation construction and underpinning challenges, and pressure to react thoughtfully to immediately adjacent architectural context. BLOCKS – Sometimes vacancy comes in larger chunks, as when an abandoned factory is demolished or infill vacancy spreads to adjacent parcels. These forces can create assemblages of adjacent sites that can allow for more flexibility in new development, while still playing a role in the larger urban fabric. LEFTOVERS – Often the first structures to be abandoned in the existing urban fabric were on oddshaped or strangely scaled sites. These non-standard odds and ends, produced by neglect, vacancy, consolidations or problematic site conditions, remain difficult to occupy, but have potential to produce unusual and exciting new models. The following projects represent examples of ISA’s engagement with these three categories of site, and the potentials and challenges inherent in each: INFILL - OUTSIDE-IN HOUSE Areas of North Philadelphia – once characterized by overwhelming levels of vacancy – are now on the frontline of a rapid housing expansion. Affordable land, coupled with proximity to highly desirable neighborhoods and transit access, is driving cheap new rowhouses with often mundane interiors and over-wrought exteriors as if fighting for curb appeal to first-time homebuyers. This facade exhuberance is missing the

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point of rowhouse living, where buildings typically collaborate on the creation of a shared street environment with personal expression held back for private interiors. Unlike much developer-driven housing in the area, the Outside-In House, completed in 2017, acknowledges the rough-edged nature of its context, creating a protected and unexpected interior experience wrapped in an unassuming envelope. The house emphasizes value inside with a more subtle, chameleon-like exterior that blends with some of the prevailing shapes and materials of the surrounding blocks set against an interior, wood-clad core that defines a unique identity and living experience. The plan layout on every level is organized around this core – a birch plywood volume that contains a vertical stack of kitchens, bathrooms, and storage and creates a spiraling progression of interior circulation. Circulating around the core creates a lengthened path through the house, leading from the most public spaces of the stoop and dining, kitchen and living areas, past a flexible space, bedroom and shared bath on the middle level, to the most private spaces of study, deck and master suite on the top floor. The house brings out the latent character of the neighborhood while creating a spatially open and architecturally novel interior that connects with the needs and desires of contemporary urban dwellers.

LEFTOVERS - XS HOUSE An extreme example of a leftover parcel, the site for XS House is 90-feetlong but just 11-feet-wide, lying at the northern edge of Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood along the Vine Street expressway. This was

Transatlantic interior. Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Completed 2017.

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Outside-In House. Kensington, Philadelphia. Completed 2017.

BLOCKS - TRANSATLANTIC Philadelphia’s urban fabric developed as a blend of industrial production and residential neighborhoods, often sharing the same blocks. When industry moved away from the city in the mid-twentieth century, it left behind large gaps in the fabric that in turn promoted further decline and vacancy in the surrounding housing. As the city has reawakened in the past twenty years, with new populations moving back to the urban core, vacant industrial buildings have a role to play as well in bringing the city back to life. Transatlantic creates a model for large-scale infill that mends urban fabric while combining adaptive reuse with new construction. Consisting of the residential adaptive reuse of a six-story heavy timber warehouse into 45 apartment units and one ground-floor commercial space and the careful insertion of 25 rowhouses, the project activates a long-vacant industrial building, reestablishes three differently-scaled perimeter blocks and creates off-street parking at the center of the site. Each block of rowhouses is tailored to fit the particular character of its adjacent street, creating a diverse set of streetscapes. Wallace Street, once a dark, narrow service alley, has reemerged as an active, pedestrian-friendly cobblestoned pathway.


the result of the city's urban renewal era that cleared a 100-foot-wide, east-west swath south of Vine Street to make way for a high-speed crosstown connection, which was depressed in a trench below street level. Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood was one of those disconnected by the construction of the expressway. Many of the formerly densely inhabited blocks south of Vine Street were sliced into odd shapes and sizes, creating lots that were difficult to occupy. Today, the expressway continues to divide pedestrian activity from north to south, while most of the odd-shaped leftover lots are used for surface parking, further deactivating the urban edge. XS House rejuvenates this leftover site, which was so marginal and small it was barely XS House exterior. Chinatown, Philadelphia. Anticipated completion 2018. noticeable as a development parcel. The project expands the extremely narrow 11-foot-wide footprint with strategic use of bays, mezzanines, and bi-level upper units. A minimal single-stair common circulation layout allows for seven apartment units – four micro-lofts, two bi-level two-bedrooms, and one two-bedroom flat in the basement. The expanded envelope emphasizes vertical living with double-height spaces adjacent to mezzanine levels in four of the seven units. Despite being a three-story building under the building code, the 63-foot-tall section connects seven levels of occupied space within its tiny footprint. Used for years as informal surface parking for two cars, the site will add urban density and street life while encouraging walkable lifestyles when it is completed in 2018. PRODUCTIVE CONSTRAINTS + FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES In his new book Mayor: The Best Job in Politics, former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter describes Philadelphia as having “achieved the urban ideal of being cool and hot at the same time.” This captures the city’s enviable position as a container of productive contradictions – Philadelphia is a magnet for millennials while remaining affordable, a big city of intimate neighborhoods, and an urban fabric whose vacancy trauma produces new possibilities and innovations. It is a city that is becoming increasingly desirable for young people and business investment, while still maintaining its edgy, gritty, authentic self. Understanding today’s era as an extension of Philadelphia’s threehundred-year history of private housing development executed in single, multiple or block-sized groups of parcels, the city can be read as a roadmap illustrating social, economic and political conditions across time. It is within this laboratory that architects have a unique opportunity to incrementally test new ideas of urban development as they impact city living. Many architects are making thoughtful contributions to the 21st Century layer of reinvestment in the city core, creating an exciting new layer of experimentation, and laying the groundwork for future growth. n

XS House interior. Chinatown, Philadelphia. Anticipated completion 2018.

ISA is led by principals Brian Phillips and Deb Katz from offices in Philadelphia, PA and Cambridge, MA. The office is engaged in design and research projects in cities across the U.S. working closely with project stakeholders to produce buildings, master plans, installations, and conversations that provide innovative solutions for clients while productively addressing changing climates, lifestyles, technologies, and urban environments.

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Philadelphia is a city of 1.5 million residents, with an astonishing 25.7 percent living at or below the federal poverty line – the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities. That translates to nearly 390,000 Philadelphians struggling to provide for their basic needs. Even more alarming is the city’s 12.2 percent deep poverty rate, which indicates a family of four living on less than $12,150 per year. With such a large pool of people with extremely limited resources, it is critical to have sufficient affordable housing that is subsidized in some way. When many in Philadelphia think of affordable housing, it is often associated with “Public Housing” and the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). PHA is in fact the largest landlord of affordable housing in Philadelphia, owning and managing approximately 24,000 units and overseeing 18,000 Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly known as the Section 8 Program. Yet, the need continues to exceed the efforts of PHA, and other groups have stepped up to help fill the gap within their neighborhoods or program areas, often using their developments to go beyond the typical calling of an affordable housing developer. The efforts of these “mission-driven” developers represent a unique and powerful approach to the city’s affordable housing crisis. Mission-driven development – a method of fulfilling or furthering the mission of an organization – is an important piece in the affordable housing puzzle. The multifamily developments these groups build are intended to transform individual lives or neighborhoods. They provide AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  17

not only subsidized housing, but also, in many cases, supportive services, such as addiction counseling or administrative assistance to help residents maintain public benefits. Cecil Baker + Partners has had the opportunity to work with some of these local non-profit developers, including Gaudenzia, People’s Emergency Center and Catholic Health Care Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In each instance, these developers have built communities that serve vulnerable Philadelphians.

FROM HOMELESS TO PERMANENT HOUSING People’s Emergency Center (PEC) began in West Philadelphia as a homeless shelter for women and their children. In the 1990s, PEC established a community development corporation as a response to the growing lack of available affordable housing for low-income and extremely lowincome families who experienced homelessness. Adding permanent subsidized housing to PEC’s portfolio has allowed it to increase the number of affordable housing units for all members of the community priced out of market rate apartments. In 2010, Cecil Baker + Partners designed Jannie’s Place with PEC. It provides 29 dwelling units ranging in size from one to three bedrooms to accommodate a range of family sizes. PEC also prioritized the inclusion of a safe outdoor play area for children. A “back yard” playground is easily accessed from the lobby and community room, and it is visible from each level of the building. While child-friendly green space is not always feasible in this type of housing, it can greatly increase quality of life for families. Jannie’s Place also features a large computer room, which accommodates PEC’s robust array of educational programming, including continuing education and GED classes, to help residents gain valuable skills while living and learning here. Built on a large, vacant site in the Mantua neighborhood, the building was designed directly along the full length of 40th Street, regaining both corners and re-establishing the grid. The façade is organized around red brick – the most common material in this typical Philadelphia neighborhood – and multi-colored metal panel siding. To date, PEC provides more than 235 affordable housing units. HOUSING FOR SENIORS Catholic Health Care Services (CHCS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia serves lower income senior citizens. In 2016, CHCS completed St. Francis Villa, 40 units of senior-friendly affordable apartments located on a vacant site in East Kensington, a neighborhood undergoing increased development activity. The new building helps fill the neighborhood’s

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HOUSING AND HEALTH The Tioga Family Center is one of the most recent mission-driven affordable housing developments completed in Philadelphia. The developer, Gaudenzia, celebrated the new 24-unit building in January. Gaudenzia, which provides addiction recovery services, began to incorporate permanent housing into its comprehensive approach, finding that with access to safe, affordable housing, people are more likely to break the cycle of addiction and attain long term sobriety. Tioga Family Center is Gaudenzia’s latest supportive, affordable housing development for single parents and their children. The project is demonstrative of the inherent link between housing and health. The new facility offers on-site community services aimed at successfully transitioning households from treatment to independent living.

Tioga Family Center complies with requirements of Enterprise Green Communities and requirements for lowered HERS ratings, making it one of the first projects completed in compliance with PHFA’s augmented energy efficiency standards. The building will substantially reduce the long-term energy imprint of the building and provide residents with utility bill savings. Energy efficient elements include triple-glazed windows, energy recovery ventilation units, highly efficient equipment and appliances as well as increased insulation. As such, the residents will enjoy homes that use 50 percent less energy than typical code-built dwellings. Tioga Family Center includes a community room and kitchen used by the surrounding community as well as by the building’s residents for local ward meetings, NA meetings and GED testing preparation. Because the development is focused on family stabilization, the building was designed to be as child-friendly as possible. A dedicated childcare space is used for babysitting and may eventually incorporate a childcare specialist. An outdoor greenspace and playground are accessible from three classrooms on the ground floor.


critical need for more affordable senior housing. A diverse mix of ageand income-eligible residents moved into their new homes in summer 2016. CHCS oversees operations of the building and provides supportive services, including assistance navigating health insurance options, Social Security and other public benefits. At St. Francis Villa, windowsills are low enough for residents in wheelchairs to comfortably look out. Bathrooms include roll-in showers with removable thresholds, and all units have an emergency call system in both the bedroom and bathroom. From the overall site down to the details in each one-bedroom unit, St. Francis Villa is a senior-friendly environment, equipped to provide for the long-term comfort of residents as they age in place in a neighborhood where market rate development may soon dramatically increase housing costs. The first floor community room looks onto a generous outdoor space designed by Jack Carman of the landscape architecture firm Design for Generations, which is nationally recognized for the design of therapeutic gardens, particularly memory gardens for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This past fall, CHCS applied for federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to be able to build St. Rita Place, another affordable senior housing community, at the corner of S. Broad and Ellsworth streets. Numerous for-profit and non-profit affordable housing developers compete for extremely limited resources to help develop safe, affordable housing in their neighborhoods and program areas, mostly through this federal LIHTC program, managed at the state level by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). CHCS and many other affordable housing developers across the state await PHFA’s announcement of tax credit awards this spring. Often organizations must apply year after year before securing the resources needed to build a single project, which can make the timelines on these developments extremely long, from concept to completion. Yet when the grand opening ribbons are cut, these are the projects with the

most power to transform lives and stabilize neighborhoods. At a time when federal funding for affordable housing is in jeopardy, it is crucial to elevate the work of these mission-driven developers and communicate their knowledge and experience within the wider development community, in pursuit of more vibrant, mixed-income communities that give all Philadelphians a safe, healthy place to call home. n Nancy Bastian is a Partner at Cecil Baker + Partners. An architect with 30 years of experience, Nancy has a particular expertise in residential, multi-family architecture. She enjoys working both with private developers on market rate housing and with social service and non-profit clients on affordable housing. Nancy has a special affinity for those projects that serve our most vulnerable populations. She has presented workshops on accessible housing and design to support thoughtful reconsideration of housing for people living with disabilities.

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Despite what current political leaders claim, climate change is real. Every day that greenhouse gases are emitted throughout the world, they move the carbon clock closer to crisis levels. The threshold between habitability and dire straights is a measurement of 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When that level is reached or exceeded, the planet would have warmed on average, two degrees Celsius from current levels. It also is the point where the rate of warming will start to increase more rapidly, causing the atmosphere to become excessively saturated, leading to more extreme weather events, and rapid sea level rise. Even in the best case scenario, anyone under the age of fifty will be exposed to serious, lasting society changing global events because of climate change. This reading has steadily increased from 316 ppm in 1958 to 405 ppm where it stands today. If human beings don’t reduce the current trajectory, the tipping point of 450 will be reached sometime between 2040 and 2050. So why do buildings matter? The urban built environment is estimated to contribute between 50-70% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.In the US alone, 40% of total energy use and 73% of electricity can be attributed to buildings directly. These numbers far exceed those of the industrial and transportation sectors, common targets for climate change activism, that are changing to meet the energy and efficiency demands of the future even though the building sector provides the most potential for carbon reduction in the world. Buildings also represent some of the most aggressive goals set by the 2015 COP 21 accord, which would require all of the world’s buildings to be carbon neutral by 2050. While technically a minimum standard, it represents a high bar from where the building sector currently stands and will require massive cultural change in order to achieve. Taken together, these are some daunting facts that in the not too distance future will force the reduction of energy through either its cost prohibitive nature or because of involuntary outages attributed to extreme weather events or sea level AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  21

DEEP ENERGY RETROFITS One of the most replicable methods of turning over existing building stock is through the utilization of a deep energy retrofit. As the name implies, this process’s primary goal is to retrofit an existing building to achieve net-zero or net-positive energy production. This is generally accomplished through a relatively straightforward design process that adds layers of insulation and/or reductions in the air infiltration up to PH standards. With brick or stone cladding, as in the case of Philadelphia’s half a million rowhouses, extra special care and attention also needs to be paid to manage bulk water and vapor, which can complicate design. When done correctly, the cost/SF can come in close to that of a traditional rehab. This application is best suited for existing homeowners pursuing full gut rehabs. ONE OR TWO FAMILY NEW CONSTRUCTION (SMALL SCALE RESIDENTIAL) Another replicable model that is very accessible to the Philadelphia market is that of single or two-family, urban infill, new construction. These projects have a marginally higher cost per square foot because there is no cheap SF or economies of scale. Still, they can be prototyped with a systems thinking based approach that creates a lot of efficiency 22  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia


rise. Architects, however, do have tools to aid in the fossil fuel detox, including the simplest path to carbon neutrality: Passive House. The built environment has hit a point that it cannot simply be built out of. Existing stock needs to be retrofitted and/or replaced in kind with buildings that meet or exceed the goals of passive design in order to reach the 2050 milestones. As it turns out, Philadelphia has some great examples and key industry players that make reaching the goals more attainable every year. The following projects represent a sampling of residential typologies that showcase how Passive House (PH) design can have an impact from individual renovations to large-scale multi-family construction. In all cases, it takes an ecosystem of architects, consultants, developers, builders, energy raters/certifiers, and building suppliers to make these projects a reality. The absence of any one of these industry players could render the concept of PH to an academic pursuit.

from multiple iterations. For example, most infill housing only has two vertical and one horizontal face exposed to unconditioned areas. This allows for the building envelope to be tuned to the climate zone and be constructable using off-the-shelf building materials. If the most complex elements of the design can compete with traditional suppliers, it makes them competitive in the marketplace. The non-standard details, such as an energy recovery ventilator (ERV), air tightness, and increased insulation can all be overcome with minimal cost upcharge. Philadelphia is in a great position to handle this type of construction because of the abundance of infill lots and (relatively) cheap land. The prime clients tend to be young families who understand the immediacy of a more sustainable future, want their most important investment to reflect their core values, and whom are already in the market to design/construct their own home. This market has also attracted progressive developers like Ryan Spak of Spak Group, who understand the market for prototyping, the benefits of passive house design, and the unique opportunity Philadelphia presents for partnering with city agencies to complete them. There are thousands of available lots ready to be transformed. For those developers who are holding the end products in their portfolio, lifecycle costs, operational costs, tenant comfort and lower utilities bills ultimately benefit them. Over time, Passive Houses have been proven to be more comfortable, durable, and affordable to operate, and offer superior options to shelter in place in the event of power outages. This leads to better long-term value than traditionally built houses.

MULTI FAMILY/ COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS The third prong of passive house construction is in its applicability to larger scale multi-family and commercial sized applications. There is a perception that as projects scale up, they become prohibitively cost expensive or too complex to reach certification. However, research conducted by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) and recent projected construction costs from Pennsylvania’s Housing and Finance Agency (PHFA) shows that the value proposition becomes a no-brainer. When done correctly, there is no premium and reaches a cost parity point around twenty-five units; below that number there is an approximate 5-10% increase in cost and above it is a negligible 0-2%. The key to the cost difference is that larger projects can afford thinner exterior envelopes and air tightness is easier to achieve. Those are two of the main differentiators at the small scale that contributes to the “no cheap SF” ideology. Therefore, Passive House competes well on first cost with traditional construction

Human beings are naturally resistant to change and can be hard to buy into new systems of thinking or acting, despite benefits that are laid out before them. However, climate change is a force that we cannot ignore and requires a substantial effort just to reduce the effects of the status quo. The architect’s main center of influence is the design of their buildings and requires action to stem the tide. The good news is that the framework of Passive House already exists and is a static and readily achievable measure of certification. It will however require the ecosystem to continue to mature in order to achieve the scale necessary for impact. Green Building United, the new organization that encompasses the Greater Philadelphia Passive House Association (GPPHA), provides biannual certification training. If more architects, developers, politicians and people ascribe to the philosophy, the power to reverse the trends of energy consumption towards carbon positivity is within our grasp. n Jeff Pastva, AIA, is a project architect at Bright Common, treasurer of AIA Pennsylvania, and editor in chief of the College of Fellows Newsletter.


with more value upside in the long term, including an 86% reduction in energy consumption. Passive House’s primary design challenges at this scale, are the compartmentalization (relative airtightness) between units, more complex HVAC systems (centralized vs. decentralized), and the uptick in internal loads (more people and gadgets to give off heat… good in winter, not in summer). Even though market rate multi-family construction has been slower to catch on, affordable housing has been a leader. This revolution began in Philadelphia with the advocacy of Tim McDonald of Onion Flats and PHFA, Pennsylvania’s state administer of federal low income tax credits. In 2016, PHFA included a significant point bonus in their RFP scoring system that made Passive House level projects essentially mandatory to be competitive within their funding rounds. A number of progressive developers, such as Community Ventures, took to the challenge and are proving that the risks are only the perception of change, but that costs are coming in inline with traditional construction. This has been and will continue to be an industry game changer that will only add more experts to the eco-system.

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Philadelphia ended 2017 on a high note. Both economic and job growth posted positive numbers, and actually exceeded the country’s growth rate. Unemployment fell a full percentage point and is now less than five percent. Payrolls increased. House prices grew strongly and so did sales activity. New construction continued in the residential sector and the Comcast Innovation Center is nearing completion. A national data management firm named Philadelphia as a top 5 city for “most improved economy” and Trulia named Philadelphia the best place for millennials to live. But, as good as things were, there are areas of concern. Our unemployment rate still remains above the national average. Less experienced and skilled workers still have relatively greater trouble finding employment, and even those that are employed have seen their wage growth lag those with more education and experience. Exceptionally low housing inventories are increasing housing’s unaffordability across the city. While million dollar home sales set new records, many (mostly lower-income) areas of the city still have house values that are below their pre-recession levels. And, both building activity and rent levels are declining as the rental market absorbs much of the new stock that has been recently completed. Let’s dive deeper into the numbers: • City house prices posted one of their most aggressive years in 2017. Average house prices in Philadelphia increased by 12.7% in 2017. This outpaced both its suburbs and the nation’s

ten largest cities (excluding Philadelphia), which saw average prices grow by only 5.9% and 0.1%, respectively. The city of Philadelphia has significantly outperformed its suburbs during the current expansion of the housing cycle. Since both markets hit bottom in 2012, house price levels in the city have risen a whopping 44% and are currently 22% above their previous peak in 2007 at the top of the last expansionary cycle. By contrast, suburban house price levels have only risen 8% since hitting bottom, and still remain 15% below their 2007 peak. The volume of million-dollar sales are breaking records. There were 158 sales of houses and 146 sales of condos priced at $1m or more in 2017. That is an all-time record for both types of properties, and is the first time that Philadelphia experienced more than a hundred +$1m sales in any year. Home sales volume is also strong. There were 20,818 home sales and 2,334 condo sales in Philadelphia in 2017. These are both 16% higher than sales volume in 2016 and are also at their highest levels since the previous boom’s peak back in 2007. So, sales volume is not only already high, but is still trending upwards. The availability of homes listed for sale is at exceptionally low levels. At the end of 2017, there were 3,329 homes listed for sale in Philadelphia; a substantial decline from the 4,443


Look at that spread!

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homes listed for sale in the previous quarter. In the suburbs, inventories fell from 17,816 in Q3 to 13,230 by the end of Q4. That is the first time in the history of these numbers that the supply of listed homes in the city has fallen below 4,000 and the supply of listed homes in the suburbs has fallen below 15,000. Due to brisk sales and low inventories, the region’s housing market is currently considered a “seller’s market”. At the current pace of sales, the city has only 2.9 month’s supply of homes for sale and the suburbs have only 4.2 month’s supply. 5-7 months is considered a “balanced market”, with anything less that that being considered a “seller’s market”, and anything greater than that to be a “buyer’s market”.

So what does this mean for the outlook for 2018? In the city, the combination of very low inventories, high sales volume and rapid price appreciation makes both economic and mathematical sense. But, in the suburbs, the fact that sales are high and inventories are low…but house price appreciation is flat is both unusual and puzzling. Typically, low inventories and increasing sales would be associated with increasing prices, since limited supply combined with growing demand should place upward pressure on house prices. One possible answer that is suggested by the data may be a decline in the general quality and physical condition of homes that have recently sold. During the first three quarters of 2017, 9.4% of all suburban home sales were new construction and 6.01% were listed in below-average condition. But, in Q4, only 5.2% of home sales were new construction while 13.8% 26  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia

were listed in below-average condition. Hence, the number of sales of relatively high-quality homes declined while the number of relatively lower-quality homes increased at the same time. This hypothesis is supported by comparing the changes in median prices to changes in the house price indices. Since the regression that computes the house price indices controls for housing quality and a home’s physical condition, the house price indices show much more modest declines in Q4 than median prices. For example, the median house price in Burlington and Montgomery counties declined by 10.0% and 6.5%, respectively, in Q4. But, the house price indices for these two counties showed much more modest declines of just 3.3% and 0.8%, respectively, during the same period. But, even if house prices showed only modest declines after controlling for seasonality and quality, it still does not explain why prices declined at all considering the current conditions of high demand (strong sales volume) and low supply (restricted inventories). Here, both statistical and anecdotal evidence indicate that the answer may be found by examining those households that are currently buying; namely: millennials appear to be finally transitioning from renting to homeownership. A recent analysis by Zillow found that 18-to-34 year-olds have now become the largest group of homebuyers in the U.S. But, due to their generally limited incomes and constrained financial resources (e.g. higher debt, lower savings, lower credit scores), they may only be able to afford relatively lower-priced and lower-quality homes. So, the increase in the number of homebuyers combined with a decrease in their fiscal means may explain the unusual combination of rising sales volume but declining prices, at least in this region. Moreover, the fact that this trend is

more pronounced in the suburbs than in the city may also suggest that homebuying millennials are preferring to buy in the suburbs, and may also be decamping the city in the process. However, it should be noted that not only is it too soon to confirm that this is indeed a real trend, but also that it cannot be confirmed from the sales data, which does not contain any information on homebuyers other than their name. But, it is something that bears continued monitoring. Another major factor to watch in 2018 that will affect both the local economy and real estate market is employment growth. The completion of the Comcast Innovation Center will likely be the first of what could be multiple “economic detonators” for both the city and region. With over 10,000 new employees the 60-story tower will house not only a high number of new jobs, but well-paying ones in the fields of engineering, software design and technology. And there’s even more benefits: as Comcast notes in their PR materials, “the facility will also create a media center in the heart of the city…and offer space for local technology start-ups.” Moreover, even if the current housing numbers indicate that decreased affordability in the city and increased demand for the suburbs is causing millennials to begin exiting the city, the completion of Comcast’s new tower should help abate and even reverse this trend. Ultimately, job opportunities tend to dominate the economic decisions of most households. High-paying jobs with Comcast combined with the potential for start-up tech firms to incubate on Comcast’s new urban campus will be a powerful draw for many educated and entrepreneurial millennials. And, as local economist Joel Naroff has observed: “There is also the continuing move toward internet sales and distribution. Our centrally located region, with its ports, airport, rail lines, and highway system, makes us well-positioned to host the warehouses and data centers this segment of the economy requires.” And then, there is the big one: Amazon’s decision about where to locate their second headquarters. It was recently announced that Philadelphia made the short list of 20 finalist cities in North America. While our high-tax, high-regulation environment is our biggest liability, our urban density and lifestyle, northeastern location and relative affordability are our biggest asset. This gives a unique advantage to Philadelphia because most other cities on the list either have affordable, pro-business climates, but are located in the more central parts of the country (Austin, Atlanta, Indianapolis). Or, they are traditional urban centers on the east coast, but have much higher costs of living and doing business than Philadelphia (Boston, New York, Washington DC, Montgomery County MD). However, even as both the economic and housing numbers generally look good for the city, there is the issue of what policies the city could pursue in 2018 that are also very important to watch. Here, there are two pieces of legislation that—if enacted—will have a major impact on both the real estate market and economy. First, there is an “Inclusionary Zoning” bill that seeks to expand the amount of mixed-income and affordable housing in the city by mandating that developers provide one unit of “affordable” housing (i.e. renting or selling it at a loss) for every nine units of market-rate housing. This bill is modeled on similar mandates that exist in the high-cost markets of California, New York and Massachusetts. Second, there is likely to be some legislation that will seek to significantly curtail or modify the city’s ten year tax abatement on improvements to real estate in Philadelphia. The political motivations behind this legislation is understandable: as new construction has boomed in response to an unprecedented

appreciation in house prices and rents, Philadelphia has been faced with two issues that is has not had to deal with in decades: housing unaffordability and neighborhood gentrification. While this author does not deny that there are many households that have been adversely affected by these issues, it is also very important to remember that the profit margins on real estate development in Philadelphia remain quite compressed compared to other major U.S. cities. Even with our recent growth in rents and prices, Philadelphia’s housing still remains very affordable compared to high-priced markets like San Francisco, Boston or New York. Moreover, we also have among the highest costs of construction of any major city in the U.S. This combination of New York-level construction costs with Baltimore’s rents and prices is what makes the return on investment to developing real estate here so tight. It is important for city officials to keep this in mind—and for the development community to watch—when considering any policies that could further depress the incentive to build and invest here. In summary, the numbers indicate that 2018 should be a pretty good year for both the local economy and housing market. In the short run, tight inventories remain the biggest issue for housing, since they are placing both undue and unnecessary upward pressure on house prices. In the longer run, the enactment of public policies that have not undergone a rigorous cost-benefit analysis will be more impactful. So, should you be bullish, bearish or just confused? The continuation of a rising economic tide makes the case for optimism. What will happen with inventories—and when—is a cause for concern. And what public policies will prevail is the biggest source of uncertainty. n Kevin C. Gillen, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow with the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University and the senior economic advisor to Houwzer LLC. Email for Kevin Gillen:

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In a 1997 New York Times article, African-American WWII vet Eugene Burnett referred to his memories of the early suburban plan of Levittown, PA as a “symbol of racism in America” that left him “cold”. Levittown was many things, but its part in a system of discrimination and denial to blacks was undeniable. This included transgressions such as lease documents for prospective homeowners that had the words “WHITES ONLY” emblazoned in capital letters on them; a fine welcome after the war. That history has stubbornly remained in place, too; as recently as the 2010 census, the Philadelphia suburb is still overwhelmingly (90%) white. Even Philadelphia, a city finally moving forward and adapting the imagination of other urban American cities, hasn’t figured out progress and placement.

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As neighborhoods develop and gentrify, African-Americans are a Jim Crow and Nobody, which dealt with race and mass incarceration; familiar casualty: from 2000 to 2014 the trending area of Graduate or Phillip Klinkner’s The Unsteady March, which looked at how racial Hospital saw its black population fall from 7,793 to 3,450; a period progress and justice doesn’t happen in a steady run towards equality that simultaneously saw white residents triple in number. Issues around and harmony, but rather in fits and starts and backwards slides that housing, gentrification, and segregation often amount to uneven, sometimes disastrous consebecome about a conversational mixture of ROTHSTEIN DOES A YEOMAN’S quences. While Rothstein’s prose might not rise tsk-tsking and personal choice, but they often to the same heights as Hill, Roberts and Coates, struggle with acknowledging the mixture of EFFORT TO SHOW THAT THE PAST his assertions are just as damning all the same. policy, discrimination and the un-removable ISN’T EVEN THE PAST WHEN WE It has been common to cite the idea of stain of racism. Along comes Richard Rothstein’s racial segregation as a lived thing of preferColor of Law, a book offering an immersive OFTEN CONSIDER HOME OWN- ence and choice; the ideas implied being that account of America’s drunken mixture of these ERSHIP TO BEING ONE OF THE blacks have not only chosen to remain sepaelements. While it doesn’t offer a reconciliarate from their white counterparts, but may tion with the past with a path forward, it does KEY WEALTH GENERATORS AND even prefer it. Color of Law helps debunk the provide a crucial illumination of how society INHERITANCES FOR FAMILIES TO popular characteristic and/or individual choice got here, with little room for believing it is by narratives that race deniers like to employ to MAINTAIN CLASS AND SOCIAL either diminish or dismiss a normalized way of accident or negligence. As a former New York Times columnist and STANDING. living in separate worlds. As Rothstein writes, a housing policy expert, Rothstein lays out the “Today’s residential segregation….is not the pernicious acts of the Government’s discriminaunintended consequence of individual choices tion and the suffering that African-Americans endured under a complex and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden housing system hell-bent on segregation. Combined, the policies and public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the outcomes have become exhibit A in the desire to maintain separate but United States.” Deniers will be hard-pressed to present counter arguunequal lives and experiences in the United States. As popular as it is ments to the evidence presented throughout; from the Civil Rights Act to still cling to the idea that America has both a moral compass bent of 1866 to FDR’s New Deal on economic mobility to the 1944 G.I. Bill, towards correcting injustice and that it has successfully emerged from Rothstein does a yeoman’s effort to show that the past isn’t even the a post-slavery past, Color of Law is yet another entry that turns those past when we often consider home ownership to being one of the key notions on their ears. wealth generators and inheritances for families to maintain class and The book also goes to great lengths to illustrate how not even landsocial standing. mark policy decisions like the Fair Housing Act of 1968 have allowed What might feel familiar about all this is how cities look and how America, and most importantly African-Americans, to attain the escape we have been coerced to live in them. We are still wildly, extravagantly velocity needed to distance themselves from a racialized agenda. The separated at the housing and community level, presenting a well-spring Color of Law not only travels cities, but time periods, ranging from of inequalities that manifest themselves in schooling, policing, mobility 1920s California to the 2014 unrest in Ferguson. The book’s gripping and voting; the key foundational ways that Americans have been sold anecdotes about policy and racism become an expansive addition to on what makes being an American so great. While Color of Law is short the complex argument that racism and discrimination doesn’t die so on pragmatic solutions it does offer a commonly used truism a new, much as it evolves. sinister meaning: it starts at home. n Its easiest reference point for most readers will be the other recent Originally from Trenton, NJ, Tre Johnson is a freelance writer focused on housing discrimination text, “The Case for Reparations”, by renowned race, education, culture and politics. His work has appeared in online race relations writer Ta-Nehisi Coates that ran in The Atlantic recently. publications such as Philadelphia Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vox and Atlanta Black Star. A former teacher and educator, he graduated from the University While there’s certainly some kinship there, Rothstein’s book might best of Maryland, College Park. A longtime Philadelphia resident, he currently be digested in conjunction with other works like Dorothy Roberts’ Killing resides in Oakland, CA. the Black Body, which looked at race and reproductive policies; The New AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  29


Archer & Buchanan Architecture PROJECT: 1112 West Lancaster Avenue Development LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA CLIENT: Bryn Mawr Renaissance PROJECT SIZE: 12,000 SF PROJECT TEAM: Archer & Buchanan Architects (Architecture) Kachele Group(Structural Engineer) hpeGROUP (MEP Engineer)


Bryn Mawr, the quintessential Philadelphia Main Line suburb, has seen the charm of its commercial streets lessened with an increase in oversized, non-descript, single-use buildings; street-fronting parking lots; and little planting or landscape. Through zoning, the Township created the “Bryn Mawr Village District” with the goal of reclaiming the charm and character that makes Bryn Mawr such a desirable residential community by encouraging mixed-use development and street- and pedestrian-friendly design on commercial streets. This residential and commercial development is designed to reinforce the street edge, provide adequate space for outdoor dining on the sidewalk, and bring residential use into the commercial district. The façade design creates a visual differentiation between the street level commercial use and upper floor apartments. Brick, the common material of 19th century commercial Bryn Mawr, is set in decorative patterns and coursing that give scale and character to the façade. Parking and the apartment building entrance is at the rear of the building. There are 4 apartment units per floor, each with 2 bedrooms and 1 or 2 full baths, living/dining/kitchen, laundry/storage/utility space, and a balcony. The building is approximately 12,000 SF and individual apartment units are 950 SF and 750 SF. The design is intended to recreate and stitch together a much-worn architectural fabric. Although the zoning ordinance requires minimum and maximum glass areas for first floor versus upper floor street fronts, a limited exterior finish material palate, restrictive building signage, and “greening”, it does not dictate the architectural style. In this case, at this location, contributing to the familiar and expected precedents of the area seemed more appropriate than making an architectural statement that might be appear alien to the community. n 30  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia


Toner Architects PROJECT: The Parish House


LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA

Located in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, this project took shape at the former Grace of God Church of Deliverance. The original campus included a church, the parish house, a vacant area and an adjacent row house. The original intent was to renovate all three of the existing buildings into multiple single family residences. Unfortunately, the church was not able to be saved due to severe structural deficiencies that were deemed too difficult and expensive to repair. It was ultimately sold and subsequently razed. The existing row house was renovated and the vacant sliver of land was developed as a singlefamily home. The adaptive reuse of the parish house posed an immense challenge. The existing building contained a gymnasium in the basement, a multipurpose room and classrooms on the first floor, and a reception hall and kitchen on the second floor. How would we take a large-scale community building and transform it into a comfortable, habitable, city-scaled dwelling? Through design exploration, it was determined that the best course of action was to maintain the exterior shell of the building and the existing interior structure with its high ceilings and large windows. The existing floor levels remained and the building was divided into narrow slices, each becoming a single-family home. These slices correspond to the grain of the surrounding row house neighborhood, a 16'-0" cadence. This provided for five separate residences within the existing structure. In order to increase the dwelling space a stepped-back third floor was added, most of which would be nearly invisible from the street. The design of the project extended beyond the office and into the field. The key challenge was keeping up with a constantly changing list of design opportunities. An example of this happened during demolition where many interesting and sometimes unexpected structural features were uncovered. The design team strove to strike a balance between old and new, and to take advantage of the builders’ passion for detail and exposed materials. Many of these found details were ultimately expressed in the final project. Some of the noteworthy restored features of the building included the original central stair and large expanses of exposed brick and stone walls, which created a strong visual contrast against the smooth, modern materials of the renovation. Other distinguishing attributes included custom windows, handmade custom lighting, and poured-inplace concrete kitchen and bathroom countertops. The team's favorite components were the handmade steel stairs and railings, accented with reclaimed wood treads from the razed church, which served to fuse old with the new. n

CLIENT: Red Oak Development PROJECT SIZE: 15,000 SF PROJECT TEAM: Toner Architects (Architecture) Larsen & Landis (Structural Engineer) Restore Decor (Furniture Staging) The Somers Team @ Re/Max Access (Sales) Red Oak Development (Developer, Builder & Interior Design) Sean Kane Photography (Photography)

AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  31


SMP Architects


PROJECT: Lions Gate - Student Apartment Community LOCATION: Abington, PA CLIENT: The Pennsylvania State University PROJECT SIZE: 135,000 SF PROJECT TEAM: SMP Architects (Architecture) Pennoni (Civil Engineer) HF Lenz Company (MEP Engineer) Larsen & Landis (Structural Engineer) Viridian Landscape Studio (Landscape Architect) David Nelson & Associates (Lighting Design) Turner Construction (Contractor)

SMP Architects provided full design services, including programming, concept alternatives and full feasibility study, for the new Student Apartments at the Abington Campus of Penn State University. Through collaboration with University housing, facilities, campus administrators and students, the SMP team developed a concept for a unique hybrid living experience that integrates private apartment living with a traditional dormitory experience. The site design includes a variety of outdoor gathering and activity space for students and staff. The project is located on a prominent site in the township, and serves as a new ‘front door’ to the nearby campus. The 400 bed facility was delivered through a design-build relationship with Turner Construction. LEED Certification is in progress at a targeted level of Silver. n 32  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia


marshall sabatini architecture + PROJECT: Pyramid Electric Lofts LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA CLIENT: MM Partners, LLC PROJECT SIZE: 65,000 SF PROJECT TEAM: marshall sabatini | architecture + (Architecture) DiGenova Associates, LLC (Structural Engineer) HPE Group (MEP Engineer) Ruggiero & Plante (Civil Engineer) Heritage Consulting Group (Historic Consultant) Axis Construction Management (Construction Manager)


The Pyramid Lofts are located at 3101 W. Glennwood Avenue in the Brewerytown neighborhood. Originally constructed in 1922, the building served as a warehouse for Harry C. Kahn & Sons furniture retailer. After Harry C. Kahn & Sons closed in 1961, the Pryamid Electric Supply Company purchased the building and occupied it until 2000. From 2000 to 2015, the Pyramid Building sat vacant and became a blank canvas for both local and national graffiti artists. In June 2016, MMPartners acquired the Pyramid Building, utilizing federal and state historic tax credits, as well as senior construction financing from Citizens Bank CRA group. The Pyramid Lofts was redeveloped into 50 residential units with 5,000 SF of commercial space, 31­gated parking spaces and indoor/outdoor common area amenities. Pyramid Lofts are design-driven loft style apartments with exposed concrete floors, ductwork, conduit and columns. Large windows, high ceilings and open floor plans will provide sweeping views of Fairmount Park and the Center City Philadelphia skyline. The project was completed in two phases and involved the rehabilitation of the complex for use as apartments, specifically artists’ lofts, with gallery and office space within the basement and first floor and apartments on the upper floors, a surface parking lot, grass dog-run in the space between the building and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. n

AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  33


Haley Donovan, LLC PROJECT: The Willows at Symphony Hall LOCATION: Newark, NJ CLIENT: Ingerman PROJECT SIZE: 66,314 SF | 60 apartments PROJECT TEAM: Haley Donovan, LLC (Architecture) Bevan Lawson, PE (Structural Engineer) Summit Engineers, Inc. (Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer) Schooley Electric (Electric Engineer) Matrix Meworld (Civil Engineer) Ingerman Construction Co. (Contractor)

The Willows at Symphony Hall is a 60-apartment community geared toward low-income residents with a component for artists, located in the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District of Newark, NJ; it embodies our dedication to sustainability through Energy Star and Enterprise Green Community certification. n


34  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia




CICADA Architecture/Planning, Inc.

Much has evolved over the years in North Philadelphia where Gilded-Age opulence and industry yielded to factory closings, poverty and crime. As part of The Philadelphia Housing Authority’s vision to revitalize a neighborhood east of Temple University, the North Central Phase II rental housing development is a design/build partnership between Shoemaker/Synterra and CICADA. This initiative weaves surviving remnants of the past with today’s gritty reality into a tapestry of future rebirth, safety and economic stimulation. North Central Phase II includes 53 new rental buildings on 29 parcels with a total of 89 new units across nine urban blocks. The new buildings fit into a grid of occupied older rowhomes, vacant lots, other newly developed homes, playgrounds, churches, stores and parking lots. New rental housing ranges from two- and three-story single-family townhouses to larger, multi-family buildings that are accessible and visitable. Public spaces such as a community room and front stoops of the townhomes activate the street and fenced in backyards with green space allow for private gathering areas. Pursuing both LEED and Enterprise Green Communities certification, the project is slated for completion in late 2018. n PROJECT: North Central Phase II Development LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA CLIENT: Shoemaker/Synterra, A Joint Venture OWNER: Philadelphia Housing Authority PROJECT SIZE: 123,000 SF | 53 buildings on 29 parcels PROJECT TEAM: CICADA Architecture/Planning, Inc. (Architecture) Larsen & Landis (Structural Engineer) Holstein White, Inc. (MEP/FP Engineer) Rodriguez Consulting, LLC (Civil Engineer) Ambric Technology Corporation (Survey/Lot Consolidation and Geotechnical/Infiltration Testing) MaGrann Associates (LEED Certification/Commissioning) Shoemaker/Synterra, A Joint Venture (Construction Manager)

AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2018  35



PROJECT: Holly Pointe Commons LOCATION: Glassboro, NJ CLIENT: Student Living PROJECT SIZE: 1,415 beds PROJECT TEAM: Erdy McHenry Architecture (Architecture) Environetics (Structural Engineer) RMF Engineering (Mechanical Engineer) Land Dimensions Engineering (Civil Engineer) Roofmeadow (Landscape) BEAM (Lighting)

Student housing, more than simply a place for students to eat and sleep, offers an opportunity to foster community and lifelong social impact. Holly Pointe Commons, a 1,415 bed residential community, is organized around small social nodes of 35 to 40 students providing a quintessential college house experience. Social and academic development is nurtured and supported throughout the living/learning community via an integrated series of lounges, recreation and laundry facilities promoting a strong sense of community and enhancing interaction among residents. The two wings of the building are connected by a series of wide bridges, acting as informal pop-up gathering spaces for students to study or relax. They are the social mixing bowls within the building, allowing for chance encounters with other residents, a desirable space for freshman students looking to make new connections. Holly Pointe Commons is located at the southeast corner of Rowan University’s main campus, bordered by Mullica Hill Road (Route 322) and North Main Street. The residential community includes two interconnected wings joined by study bridges, organized along a gradual

36  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia

curve, encircling a formal campus oval marking the terminus to the existing pedestrian campus greenway. The building massing is located on the site with a sensitivity toward the natural landscape. By preserving the existing rain garden, a visual/physical buffer is maintained between the campus and the residential fabric, while maintaining an environmentally sensitive approach to water management. The new dining facility, facing back towards campus, anchors the western end of the site, and overlooks the historic Abbott’s Pond. As stewards of our environment Holly Pointe Commons incorporates several key environmental elements to reduce energy consumption, mitigate storm water runoff and serve as a palpable example for other ecologically-minded projects on campus. The façade of the building was fabricated off site in a controlled environment, maximizing performance while minimizing waste. From outside to inside, building materials were selected to incorporate recycled content and low emissions. Led lighting, low flow plumbing fixtures and mechanical systems utilize HIGH-efficiency Energy Recover Units. n

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38  SPRING 2018 | context | AIA Philadelphia Photography © Aislinn Weidele



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CONTEXT - Spring 2018  

In this issue of Context we offer a few interesting perspectives in the broad and complex topic of housing.

CONTEXT - Spring 2018  

In this issue of Context we offer a few interesting perspectives in the broad and complex topic of housing.