The Northern Liberties neighborhood, just north of Center City in Philadelphia, used to be a decrepit Rust Belt remnant, but it now attracts the artist crowd. Over the past decade that crowd has come, stayed, become organized, and turned the neighborhood into a vibrant community that honors its local history while allowing a modern sensibility to permeate new design. Architect Kevin Angstadt, principal of Qb3, has completed three projects in the neighborhood, and he says his latest, Split-Level House, could not have been accomplished without the forward-thinking neighborhood association of Northern Liberties.
For Split-Level House, built on a small corner lot where a hotel was located some 30 years ago but which has been vacant since, Angstadt, his client, and the board wanted a design that would give a respectful nod to that long-gone building and its curved facade, and would reaffirm a relationship to the two streets meeting at the corner. Angstadt’s client had minimal demands — a three-bedroom house that could accommodate a future family while also providing a garage.
The neighborhood board agreed to 100 percent lot coverage, and Angstadt designed a three-story brick building with a sod roof to modulate groundwater runoff. He decided on gray brick for the bullnose facade to offset the mahogany windows and sapele wood cladding — a modern treatment that still defers to the surrounding redbrick and stone buildings. The wood cladding turns the corner from east to north: In front, the corner under the overhanging bullnose is glazed, giving passersby hints of the many levels within.
The name “Split-Level” refers to the parti, an elaboration on a typical suburban split-level house. Angstadt wanted to transform the mundane split-level by creating a series of platforms where spaces within each room would expand vertically as well as horizontally. Inside the house, structural support is evident only in the six skinny steel columns on each floor — columns that serve to stitch together the varying levels and allow living spaces to open up to each other on the bottom two floors.
The third level is the only space not readily visible from another room in the house. The homeowner’s private sanctuary, this master suite is lower than the surrounding outdoor terrace/green roof, which wraps around the house and is sheltered by the brick parapet. Anthracite zinc clads the exterior walls of the master suite, marking it as a private pavilion separate from the rest of the house.
With views from the rooftop garden of Center City, the Ben Franklin Bridge, and the bustling neighborhood all around, the house allows its inhabitants to feel part of its urban surroundings. This is brotherly love at its finest.
Bill Curran Design