Architecture: The Split Level House and The Streetscape

Out my window is a choppy landscape of architectural styles. Face-to-face with the brick and terracotta brownstone it’s set in, is some sort of Italian Revival. Far left, I can see a Philip Johnson tower; to the right is the vintage, neon lit signage of the building where Bob Dylan started his career. The other side of the Italian Revival block exhibits an art deco garage turned convenience store, backed by a turn of the century, 583 ton brick foursquare. It’s weight is known because it was moved brick by brick 16 blocks to save it from being demolished, making the streetscape all the more like a collection on display; at any second, a giant hand could plop down a Greek temple. The streetscape is a good mix, and interesting.  What it’s not, is coherent.

The Split Level House by Qb3 is.  It inhabits the corner lot of a rusticated block of brown brick buildings in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia.  Its contemporary, vertically playful insides let the vernacular streetscape spill in through the square subtractions in its gently bent, (not-brown) brick facade.  Wood reconciles the grey of the brick while glass dismisses it. The vertical play in layout culminates in a rooftop space that presents an even wider, more dramatic view to the urban fabric. The curves, height, and street-level connection book-match the attractive building face-to-face with it; that Italian Revival out my window does none of what the Split Level House achieves.

The street I’m writing from is so eclectic because that is the character its heritage set up for it.  It sees more activity and change than the Split-Level House’s wider site. Yet the architects responded to the street’s buildings (integrity) without adhering to them (sincerity), in this home.  Pluck it from it’s context, and it’s wholly modern; put it back, and it’ll revert to a piece, fitting perfectly in a century old composition. The same genes, different generation.  When a wider context of the site, block, neighborhood, and city is addressed, biological terms are apt.  Buildings like this one keep architecture alive, then keeps it lively by progressing it.

This house has had its share of press and limelight. This post evolved more into a commentary on disparate streetscapes and design responses than on the individual house, as it is a prime example.  The Split Level House is one of my favorites for many reasons, though, and should be checked out for its individualistic design merits, as well.


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