Context - Spring 2016 - (Page 22)

PRACTICE: ThE ROwhOUSE 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 building type."

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Spring 2016

Editor's Letter
Community
Up Close
Equity: The Intersection of Community Development and Design
Innovation: Tactical Urbanism in Underserved Communities
Practice: The Rowhouse: Reimagined and Relevant
Opinion
Design Profiles
Index to Advertisers

Context - Spring 2016

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