ZBA Approves Bloc 23; Breaks Ground In Early 2013

 

Bloc 23 | Image: LABhaus

A clearly enthusiastic Zoning Board of Adjustment this afternoon gave final approval to Bloc 23, an ambitiously contemporary 22-unit condominium and retail project at 23th and Bainbridge in Graduate Hospital that will break ground in early 2013. The project is significant in its intentional departure from the neo-traditional housing being developed by Toll Brothers directly next door.

“I think it’s a wonderful design,” said Kevin Gray, the chair of South of South Neighbors Association, at a meeting last week to approve changes in the design (SOSNA had given its initial approval of the project last year). “I think it would be a great asset to the community.”

If the project goes according to schedule, it will be completed in fall next year, around the same time as Toll Brothers’ townhouses. A second phase is in the works for an adjacent site at 611-615 South 24th Street.

Bloc 23 site | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Designed by Campbell Thomas Architects, the G-Ho firm best known for work in preservation and the planning of trails and bike paths, and Stephen Nebel of the Berlin firm LABhaus (Nebel is a G-Ho native who moved to Berlin to be near top contemporary designers), the building is notable for its ample–10,000 square foot–retail component, significant green elements, and its modular construction. Most of Bloc 23 will be built at the factory of Professional Building Services in Middleburg, Pennsylvania, three hours away. Then it will be assembled in ten days on site.

Because of site and access constraints, modular construction isn’t always appropriate for tight urban parcels and it won’t ever work for renovation of existing buildings, but at this project it will save time–cutting construction days in half–labor costs, and critically, according to the project’s developer Stephen Rodriguez and its architect Jim Campbell, lead to gains in sustainability performance. “We have been working on modular construction for years and we think that this type of construction is definitely part of the future,” said Campbell. “Modular or prefabricated construction brings some efficiencies and because of these efficiencies, they may be more sustainable.”

Rodriguez, an aerospace engineer who designs helicopter parts at Boeing and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Drexel in 2001, sees factory-made building components as the future, particularly for engineering long spans of roofing, window glazing, and the fitting of building parts together. “When you see it,” he said, “it’s instantly recognizable as superior green technology.”

Bloc 23 looking west. The adjacent former dairy plant, now demolished, is the site of Toll Brothers’ neo-traditional row house development | Image: LABhaus

According to the developer, it also allows him to build a top of the line, fully-fitted project at a comparable cost to other, more standard projects. Some of that savings is in labor, but lending and holding costs are also significantly reduced by shrinking the project schedule. As for labor, Rodriguez says union crews will be doing the site work and assembling the building. The 40,000 square foot building will cost $6-7 million, all in.

Rodriguez saw his challenge as lowering costs while increasing the design quality for a major site that demanded a thoughtful, but also progressive design. “He is smart,” said Campbell, “motivated, very concerned about the community and the environment, and wants to do good contemporary architecture.”

“I refused to put up another mediocre building,” said Rodriguez, referring pointedly to the Toll Brothers development–a project he says has no architect, “designed by lawyers”–“and so we took what others were doing and just did the exact opposite.”

The retractable solar screens | Image: LABhaus

“Each unit is somewhat special,” says Campbell. “Sizes vary (700-2,500 square feet), offering a wide range of possible housing solutions. Since the units are manufactured from the inside out rather than with conventional construction from the outside in, they will be very energy efficient. To add to the energy efficiency and since the building has primary east, west, and south exposures, we are providing each unit with a solar screen to help reduce the solar gain in the summer and to help keep them naturally cool.” The building also has a stormwater control system.

There are private and shared terraces, a green roof, underground parking. “We wanted to create a plausible alternative to the townhouse to appeal to families and other permanent residents,” said Rodriguez, who will move in with his wife and two children.

Bloc 23 interior unit | Image: Labhaus

The appeal for the neighborhood is in high quality materials and the treatment of the street. Rodriguez said contrary to conventional wisdom, there is so much retail demand, “I could have built all 40,000 square feet as retail.” Outdoor seating is planned for the three to four retail spaces that will take advantage of the wide 12-14 foot sidewalks; and the sidewalk itself, with pervious pavement and rainwater acceptors, is incorporated into the building’s design.

“I want to shame the other developers who are ten times more financially successful than I am into doing something better,” said Rodriguez.

Additional reporting by Steve Currall

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is also senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine.



Comments are closed.

Recent Posts
Donate Today  And  Help Us Stay The Course

Donate Today And Help Us Stay The Course

November 21, 2014  |  News

What would Philadelphia be without Hidden City Daily? That question looms as we end the 9th day of our annual campaign. Co-editor Michael Bixler has this special message to our readers > more

Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

November 21, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Preliminary visions for a reused Bok Technical High revealed, wayfinding system in store for the Northwest, and anticipating the demise of the PGW sale > more

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

November 20, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Selling our visual landscape short with urban experiential displays, local government attitudes on display at the "City Hall Parking Lot", a nocturnal urban arts tour, and envisioning a high-speed line through Philly > more

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The <em>Shvitz</em>

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The Shvitz

November 19, 2014  |  Vantage

Nothing says healthy living like a corned beef sandwich, a lit cigar, and the sauna. Ron Avery gives us an old-world tour of Camac Baths, the former Jewish bathhouse at 12th Street Gym > more

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

November 19, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Broad & Washington lot discussed at community meeting, development angst in Upper Roxborough, the pragmatism of the Live! Hotel & Casino selection, and The Bourse to cater to N3rd Street > more

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

November 18, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The FLP “builds inspiration,” a rocky revitalization for West Girard, how much stimulus Pope Francis will bring to town, and regarding the legions of sweepers from yesteryear > more