What Happens When Civic Design Review Works

The version of Lincoln Square that sailed through Civic Design Review Nov. 1....

The version of Lincoln Square that sailed through Civic Design Review Nov. 1….

When designing projects, large or small, architects should take into account more than just the needs and wants of the client in fashioning them. They should also take into account how the project will fit in with (or stand out from) its surroundings and the impact it will have on how the urban fabric functions. A series of videos recently released by BLT Architects (BLTa), one of this city’s largest and best-known firms, gives some insight into how this process works, or is supposed to.

Of course, aesthetic considerations should also come into play, and here, the track record is as mixed as the contextual one is. The building featured in the videos, the BLTa-designed East Market development, is a splendid example of taking urban context into account in site design, but aesthetically, it perhaps fits in too well with its surroundings, with a residential tower that more closely resembles its (former) office-building neighbors than distinguishes itself from them as a place where people will actually live.

The 2012 revision of Philadelphia’s zoning code included a new process intended to prod architects to dive deeper into these aspects of the design process for large projects on both functional and aesthetic grounds. But as the Civic Design Review panel, whose job it is to do the prodding, only plays an advisory role, it remains up to the architect and client to determine whether and how they do that diving. Read more »

Jawdropper of the Week: A Modern Palace Just Off the Avenue of the Arts

1334 Kater St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147 | TREND images via BHHS Fox & Roach

1334 Kater St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147 | TREND images via BHHS Fox & Roach

Just off the point where the Avenue of the Arts and South Street cross, where Hawthorne and Washington Square West meet, is a stylish new development of luxury homes called Kater Court. The name strikes us as most appropriate, as these large (4,000-square-foot) homes are so lavishly equipped you’ll feel like modern royalty living in them.

There’s plenty of space for living, relaxing and entertaining, indoors and out, including two roof decks facing in opposite directions. Rich wide-plank wood floors (eight inches wide and six feet long) and modern iron stair railings add a touch of contemporary sophistication to the home, which has an elevator to carry you from floor to floor effortlessly.

The first space you see upon entry is the most breathtaking in the home: a dramatic living room with a 15-foot ceiling, the focal point of the split-level main floor.  Read more »

Hard Hat Tour: Van Pelt Mews

Scaffolding surrounds the Walnut Street townhouse in Van Pelt Mews in September. | Photos: Sandy Smith

Scaffolding surrounds the Walnut Street townhouse in Van Pelt Mews in September. | Photos: Sandy Smith

It seems that architect Cecil Baker has the golden touch these days. Not only is he the emergency surgeon of choice for ailing projects, having resuscitated at least two high-profile projects that were going south design-wise with their neighbors, he has produced equally high-profile designs of his own that have won him further acclaim for the way they interact with their sites, in particular a luxury condo tower behind Independence Hall that hides itself from the Liberty Bell.

His latest project may not fall into the high-profile category, but it once again shows why he has become our most praised residential architect.

Van Pelt Mews is a 12-unit luxury townhouse project on Rittenhouse Square’s western fringes that combines the historic restoration of a 19th-century townhouse and carriage house on Sansom Street with nine large new homes fronting on Van Pelt Street. Read more »

Hard Hat Tour: The Fairmount @ Brewerytown

The living room of one of the model apartments at the Fairmount @ Brewerytown. | Photos: Sandy Smith unless otherwise indicated

The living room of one of the model apartments at the Fairmount @ Brewerytown. | Photos: Sandy Smith unless otherwise indicated

When Westrum Development Corporation built the Brewerytown Square townhouse development on 31st Street between Master and Thompson streets in the early 1990s, getting people to consider Brewerytown as a place to live was a tough sell. The location of the homes across from an Acme Markets warehouse probably didn’t help things either.

But sell they did, and now, some 15 years later, Brewerytown has come back into its own, this time not as an industrial hub but as an increasingly lively residential neighborhood anchored by a revitalizing commercial district. The latest project to join the steady parade of new construction and adaptive reuse is reclaiming the last untouched portion of that former Acme warehouse and turning it into luxury loft-style apartments. Read more »

450 New Apartments Planned at 4th & Callowhill

4th & Callowhill | Cecil Baker + Partners

4th & Callowhill | Cecil Baker + Partners

It appears that a developer is hoping to build something big at 4th and Callowhill streets, in the space between Old City and Northern Liberties.

On Wednesday, renderings of the project were made public ahead of a meeting of the Civic Design Review Committee next month. The project includes 454 apartments in two towers, one 26 stories tall and the other 23, with extensive landscaping. The building design was created by Cecil Baker + Partners, with landscape architecture by Studio Bryan Hanes. In recent years, Baker has become one of the best-liked architects working in the city.

The project is designed to take advantage of the East Callowhill zoning overlay, which was adopted in order to encourage dense, pedestrian-friendly development in the area in hopes of connecting Old City and Northern Liberties.

The project will also include two retail spaces and 233 parking spaces. The lot’s zoning allows developer Mark Rubin to proceed with this project by right, but its size requires that it go before Civic Design Review before permits can be issued.

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Sharswood Redevelopment Update: Two Steps Forward, One Sideways

Recent developments will fill in some of the squares on the PHA's Sharswood redevelopment map. Filling in the rest will take a while longer. | Map: PHA

Recent developments will fill in some of the squares on the PHA’s Sharswood redevelopment map. Filling in the rest will take a while longer. | Map: PHA

The Philadelphia Housing Authority has some good news on the Sharswood redevelopment front. Then there’s some news that, while not exactly good, can’t be called bad either.

First, the good news items.

PHA announced at the beginning of August progress towards two of the Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan’s goals: a new supermarket for the underserved neighborhood and a partnership that will both help current homeowners maintain their properties and add new affordable housing to the neighborhood. Read more »

City Wants Development With ‘Social Impact’ At 8th and Race

The lot on the northwest corner of 8th and Race is currently used for parking | Image from Google

The lot on the northwest corner of 8th and Race is currently used for parking. | Image from Google

The surface parking lot on Race Street between 8th and 9th is one of the biggest empty spaces remaining in Center City, and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority is hoping its transformation will serve a purpose broader than the developer’s bottom line.

Later this month*, PRA will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the lot. For the first time, the Authority will require developers to describe the “social impact” of their development proposals. The social impact component is open-ended, including anything from affordable housing and minority-business participation to healthy food access, job creation, or even simple cash donations to nonprofits or community groups. Greg Heller, the director of the PRA, says he’s just hoping to be convinced that a particular proposal will be the best one for the neighborhood and the city. Read more »

Toll Brothers: “We Want A Project That’s Appropriate” for Jewelers Row

The three buildings at left in this photo are the ones Toll Brothers has acquired in connection with its plan to build a mixed-use residential-retail structure in the heart of Jewelers Row. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

The three buildings at left in this photo are the ones Toll Brothers has acquired in connection with its plan to build a mixed-use residential-retail structure in the heart of Jewelers Row. | Photo by Oscar Beisert

Toll Brothers City Living, the company that plans to replace a row of commercial structures in the heart of Jewelers Row with a mixed-use residential/commercial project, wants to build a building everyone concerned can support, division Vice President Brian Emmons said in an exclusive interview.

Including the preservationists.

“It’s our intention to meet with the stakeholders to design a project appropriate to the neighborhood,” he said.  Read more »

Hard Hat Tour: East Market’s First Building

The future home of the area's second, and Center City's first, MOM's Organic Market is almost complete. | Photos: Sandy Smith except where indicated

The future home of the area’s second, and Center City’s first, MOM’s Organic Market is almost complete. | Photos: Sandy Smith except where indicated

MOM is getting ready to welcome her neighbors to East Market come this fall.

That’s MOM as in “MOM’s Organic Market,” the first tenant signed for the mixed-use development that will, when complete, occupy the entire block bounded by 11th, 12th, Market and Chestnut streets. Its space on the street level of 34 S. 11th St. is closing in on completion, and work is well under way on getting the insides of the building ready for two more tenants, including a new one developer National Real Estate Development (NRED) announced yesterday (July 13): Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), a national architectural firm with Pennsylvania roots whose Philadelphia office is currently at 123 South Broad.

NRED used the occasion of the BCJ announcement to invite the media in to take a look around and see how construction is progressing on the first building to be completed as part of the multiphase project. The building, which was once an annex of Snellenburg’s department store and was most recently home to the Philadelphia Family Court, has been given a Modernist factory-like treatment by project architect BLT Architects. Read more »

Homes for Sale Coming to King of Prussia

So they're wood, stucco and brick rather than brown stone, but the Brownstones at the Village at Valley Forge will let homeowners stake a claim on the new, more walkable King of Prussia. | Rendering courtesy Toll Brothers

Even though they’re made of tan siding, brown brick and cream rather than brown stone, the Brownstones at the Village at Valley Forge will let homeowners in on the action in the new, more walkable King of Prussia. | Rendering courtesy Toll Brothers

It’s the dream of more than a few urbanites I know to live right next door to a Wegmans. Even better: owning their own place next door to one. Starting early next year, these people will be able to get their heart’s desire courtesy Toll Brothers City Living, which broke ground this month on the first buildings of a 132-unit condominium development.

All they’ll have to do is move to King of Prussia.

The Brownstones at the Village at Valley Forge, as Toll is calling it, is the first for-sale residential development in King of Prussia in many years and the only one that will be in the middle of what’s shaping up to be its first truly walkable mixed-use community. That’s right: living next door to a Wegmans here means you step out your door and walk over to the store, no driving involved.

And if you happen to be employed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s new clinic in K of P, you’ll have it made in the shade, for it’s a very short walk in the opposite direction.

Plus, said Toll Brothers City Living Division President Brian Emmons, “all the cool shops are just a few minutes away.”

The Brownstones will be similar in plan to the 2400 South condominium Toll built in Graduate Hospital’s western reaches two years ago: each four-story building will contain two three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath condominium units. The lower units will offer optional basements, while the upper ones introduce something new to King of Prussia: optional roof decks. All of the units will have outdoor living space in the form of rear balconies.

Work on the first six units, including the two sales models, is now under way; Emmons said Toll Brothers expects to complete these units by October, when the development will go on the market. Work on the next 18 units should begin by then and be complete by early 2017, with more units coming on line as the project progresses.

The Brownstones is one more piece in the larger plan spearheaded by the King of Prussia District to introduce more walkable urban environments into the mix of uses in the Philadelphia region’s largest edge city.

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