Philadelphia apartments exhibit innovative responses to unusual contexts

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is amid a multi-family housing boom, with hundreds of mid-rise podium buildings going up across the city. Two projects by Interface Studio Architects (ISA) respond to the specificity of their sites in uniquely successful responses.

The plan and entry experience for the first 49-unit, five-story, mixed-use development—named Orange Crush—are inspired by the site’s odd geometry and adjacent edges. Sandwiched between a sunken railroad right-of-way, a historic brick industrial building, and a new neighborhood school, the building’s context contributes to its character. The building infills the site with a simple rectilinear volume, with a carved edge facing its odd-shaped neighbor. Rather than situate the lobby in a typical street-facing position, residents are invited down a side alley lined on one side with the historic exterior brick wall of the adjacent building. The character of the new building’s colorful inner facade is set against this masonry texture, generating an entry experience deeply rooted in place. The narrow path expands and contracts, winding around a corner to reveal a social lounge and a hidden garden, wrapped within the texture of the adjacent building and the overgrown railway.

The second 49-unit, mixed-use building—referred to as The Block—is situated on an existing surface parking lot in Philadelphia’s Callowhill zone. It bridges the gap between a parking lot and a pedestrian walkway. The building was developed by the owners of the single-story warehouse immediately to the north, which was previously converted to a house, a local brewery, and big box retail. The building lines the parking lot’s Fifth Street frontage with live-work units and anchors it with ground-floor retail. The pedestrian passageway cuts through the building at grade, and a social terrace occupies the roof above. The building incorporates an unusual approach to circulation, taking cues from Philadelphia’s rowhouse fabric. Minimizing interior corridors, it relies instead on an elevated, landscaped deck as primary access for upper-level, walk-up units. The massing features apertures in both plan and section, opening unexpected views, enhancing pedestrian access, and fostering a sense of porosity across the building’s layered streetscape.

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