Context - Spring 2016 - (Page 22)
REImAgINED AND RElEVANT
BY JOANN GRECO
Tiny houses? They may be the latest residential trend but
Philadelphians have been making do with, and reveling in them
for ages. Sustainability? What do you call shared walls, smaller
footprints, and flat roofs crying out for solar arrays and succulents?
Affordability? How about blocks and blocks of new $250,000 homes
nestled alongside older ones long ago bought and paid for?
When it comes to today's real estate buzz-phrases, the
unprepossessing rowhouse ticks off points again and again. And
Philadelphia, where they make up some 60 percent of occupied
housing units, is proving a lab for imaginative designers willing to
tackle the form. "We have come to really love rowhouses," says
architect Brian Phillips, AIA, principal at ISA, one of several young
firms creating a new urban residential vernacular. "They're a
super-flexible type that's more about the context of the urban fabric
than just housing. They defer to the city. And the minute you break
out of tradition, there's a lot of possibilities in that little box."
these small, inherently affordable row houses would never be built today, but they offer
home ownership and low cost rentals to people who would be shut out of the market in
most big cities.
22 SPRING 2016 | context | AIA Philadelphia
Possibilities exist, too, in the good old-fashioned, standard issue
rowhouse: a brick-clad rectangle of between 1,000 and 2,000
square feet that typically measures 16-feet wide by 40 feet deep
and rises two or three stories. Plenty of aspirational and affluent
homeowners have invested in updating their tired interiors while
upgrading their inefficient systems. Meanwhile, thousands of
lower income homeowners are eager to simply get their houses
back into shape.
A plethora of organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity
and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, stand ready to help them,
operating on the principle that the most affordable (and most
sustainable) home is the one that's already built. One emerging
effort, the Healthy Rowhouse Project - founded by the Design
Advocacy Group (DAG) - recently secured funding to work with
such service providers in developing a model to rapidly implement
repairs and preserve housing citywide. The idea is that fixing leaky
roofs and replacing rotting joists keep both the building and its
inhabitants safe and healthy.
"The Philadelphia rowhouse has given so many people a chance
to own a home," says kiki Bolender, AIA, who serves on the
project's working team. "It's just heartbreaking to see the amounts
that can cause someone to give it all up. For a fraction of what it
costs to demolish and rebuild, we can save existing stock - and help
the people who live there stay."
Rowhomes weren't always such a regular part of the Philadelphia
landscape, of course. William Penn's "countrie town" only morphed
into a dense one of narrow homes on compact lots as the city grew
and landlords and developers divided their parcels. Rowhouses
in Philly came to mean everything from the trinities of Elfreth's
Alley to the post-Civil War mansions of Rittenhouse Square.
Today, emphasizes Bolender, who also co-wrote The Philadelphia
Rowhouse Manual, the rowhouse "absolutely remains relevant as a
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Spring 2016
Equity: The Intersection of Community Development and Design
Innovation: Tactical Urbanism in Underserved Communities
Practice: The Rowhouse: Reimagined and Relevant
Index to Advertisers
Context - Spring 2016