Monday, August 22, 2016

Stacked Townhomes - Philadelphia, a resource for everything row house

Those who followed my Row House design study know that I relied on the rich stock of row house housing prototypes in nearby Philadelphia. The city contains a broad range of row house precedents from colonial times to the present. Almost every variation in row houses is represented in the city, so it should come as no surprise that there are examples of Stacked Townhomes in recent history.

When I was a young architect that landed in Philadelphia I immediately became aware of this scattered site infill project which consisted of a mix of two story townhouses, and a curious precursor to the stacked townhouse. This was a three story row house configured as a two story unit above a one story flat. These were built on some grant program that made the houses more affordable to low income home buyers, and at the time they were built the neighborhood was just beginning a transition through redevelopment.

Its not clear to me if these were two units in a condominium ownership model, or if they were being sold as one building to give the owner an opportunity to live in one unit and rent the other. The ground floor flat made it easy to offer an accessible unit, and the second floor two story unit was equal to the other two story row homes in the redevelopment project. 

On the street we can see that the units had a single entry door, with two mail slots. So inside was a small vestibule with an entry door to the ground floor flat, and a door to the stairway to the second floor unit. Shared entries like these are something that most contemporary Stacked Townhomes avoid.

The lots were deep and had a parking pad behind. The ground floor unit had direct access to the yard, and the upper unit had a small landing/deck and a stair down to the yard. Perhaps not ideal, but both units had a reasonable connection to an outdoor space.
Lessons learned here? The configuration with a full accessible flat under a two story unit is a compelling model, as both units work well. However developers today seem much more interested in a balanced size and value for the two units. A small accessible unit does not seem to meet that trend. On a positive note the rear yard connection is a real asset here, and could easily have resolved into two private narrow yards, and two parking pads, one for each unit. When we begin sketching out schemes we will see if this straight forward access can be combined with a balanced unit size.