Sunday, February 28, 2010

Walkability in Graduate Hospital

Walkshed Philadelphia gives anyone the ability to explore Philadelphia neighborhoods according to the proximity of such neighborhood perks like coffee shops, pharmacies, grocery stores, parks, libraries, car share pods, bars, hardware stores, and more. Although 1/4-mile radius is the generally accepted distance that is defined as 'walkable', a 1-mile radius is used on this site.

Philadelphia is the personal research project of Aaron Ogle, a software developer at Avencia. It's based upon the popular Walk Score site, but seeks to improve accuracy and relevance by allowing each user to customize the site based on their personal preferences. Since walkability can be a very subjective measure, each visitor can rank the elements that are most important to them so that they're more heavily weighed in the walkability calculations. For example, if you're a college student and would rather live closer to restaurants, bars, and transit than neighborhood parks and grocery stores, you can easily place more weight on those categories. The site also takes into account the actual walking distance that you'd have to travel to get to each location, rather than relying on a 1 mile radius on a map which doesn't reflect barriers to pedestrian movement like railroad lines or rivers.

According to the default priorities, Montrose Green has a walkability score of 74 out of 100.

Most areas in and around Center City will have high walkability rankings, no matter if higher importance is placed on libraries and coffee shops compared to pharmacies and restaurants. However, Walkshed is a helpful tool to explore neighborhoods in the City that you're less familiar with, especially if you're thinking about moving to a different area of town.

The data that we reviewed for Graduate Hospital seemed to be fairly accurate, but we noticed some missing players. For instance, when setting Montrose Green as the starting location, the site didn't show the relative proximity to the Italian Market even though it's within the 1 mi. boundary. Several popular neighborhood restaurants & cafes that are also within the 1 mi range weren't listed either, such as Pumpkin Restaurant near 17 & South Street.

Also missed were neighborhood favorites like:
May's Cafe- 1700 block of Christian Street
--best prices on lunch meat around
Pumpkin Market
- 16oo block of South St, south side
--local produce & baked goods, their coffee shop now opens at 7am!
Pumpkin Cafe- 1600 block of South St, north side
--sandwiches and light fare using seasonal ingredients
Salsita - 1600 South St.
--just $10 for your first salsa class
Jamaican Jerk Hut- 1500 South St.
--BYO rum to mix with their fresh fruit drinks
Organic Community Garden- 1500 block of Christian St.
--opened summer 2009, garden plots available for rent
Govinda's Gourmet-To-Go- Broad & South St.
--amazing veggie wraps & sandwiches
Philly Kitchen Share- 1600 block of South St
--cooking classes & commercial kitchen rental space
Cafe L'aube - 1500 block of South Street
--typical independent coffee shop offerings

This is not an exhaustive list, so there may be other neighborhood amenities not represented on WalkShed. It's a shame that the fast food joints along Broad Street are listed, while somehow these unique local businesses weren't included in the data set. They certainly add a unique vibrancy to the neighborhood that is difficult to measure, so their omission seemed important to note. Hopefully future versions of this site will be updated to ensure a more accurate reflection of the goods & services available in Grad Hospital.

It's encouraging to see that carshare pods, hardware stores, and farmer's markets are included as categories on WalkShed, but we'd personally like to see a few more dog parks, childcare centers, and public restrooms. For those of us with young children & pets, these are wonderful amenities in the city that aren't normally equally distributed. How about bike racks or bike lanes? What else would YOU add to Walkshed? Does your neighborhood seem accurately represented?

SOSNA (South of South Neighborhood Assn.) hosted a discussion last fall about increasing pedestrian safety in our neighborhood. We don't know the details yet, but it sounds like the neighborhood association won a grant to implement some innovative improvements. Looking forward to learning more about their plans in Grad Hospital as walkability and pedestrian safety go hand in hand. To learn more about SOSNA, visit their website: Neighborhood meetings & locations as well as important updates are listed there.

FYI... For those less familiar with the name of our neighborhood, "Graduate Hospital" or simply "Grad Hospital" was the name of a hospital located in the north central part of the neighborhood. The hospital closed a few years ago and was subsequently bought by UPenn's health system. It now operates primarily as a rehabiliation center and has been renamed, but our neighborhood moniker lives on. Many residents weren't crazy about the name to begin with, but they can't seem to agree on a new one. The funny thing is, this neighborhood already goes by a number of other names. These include: Southwest Center City, South Square, SoSo (South of South), Naval Square, G-Ho (terrible, isn't it?), Marian Anderson Village, Schuylkill Southwest, and my all-time favorite... Northwest South Philly.

Whatever you call it, it's a great neighborhood and others seems to agree. Out of hundreds of neighborhoods in the Philly area, Grad Hospital made Philadelphia Magazines, "10 Awesome Places to Call Home" list for 2010.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our snow-covered city

This weekend Philadelphia was blanketed with over 2 feet of snow in one of the biggest winter storms in the city's history. A few details that show a glimpse of Philly's surreal transformation (from the vantage point of our roof and backyard, of course). For scale reference, notice the travel mug on the picnic table in the bottom image.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Montrose Green update...

Well, it's been quite a while since our last post- we're long overdue for an update. We have finished the Montrose Green renovation and are in the final stages of wrapping up the LEED-H certification. We're still on track to achieve a Platinum level, as long as the final air infiltration & blower door testing goes smoothly. Lately we've primarily been preoccupied with designing and building our next project- this time for a client. The house is a 3-story infill on mid-block site in Graduate Hospital and is approximately 50% through construction. We've been photo documenting the progress and will be posting updates very soon at our new website: This site is still under development, but we'll be slowly transitioning to a new format that will allow us to report updates on multiple projects as our firm grows and we take on additional work.

In other news, we've recently decided to "temporarily" move into Montrose Green. Although we took the house off the MLS during the holidays, the home is still for sale by owner. We are taking this opportunity to test all the systems & appliances and monitor the utility bills (with a family of three) to see if we are indeed saving as much energy as we projected. With this winter season being the coldest in several years, it is proving a great testing ground. We'll report our findings as we compile the data, but so far, so good. Our unscientific report to date is that the house stays quite toasty, even on the bitter cold days. Because the HVAC sytem is zoned (1st floor- zone 1; 2nd & 3rd floors- zone 2) , and with the help of a tightly insulated envelope, numerous ceiling fans, and an open design, we can usually just heat the first floor and let the warm air rise up through the house.

The green roof and the stormwater planter have gone into dormancy for the season. Some of the sedums on the roof have turned a deep red color, but there's still some green visible. All of the other plants are doing well- with little to no maintenance. We are looking forward to the spring season when we'll get to witness the green roof and rain gardens bloom and mature.

As you can imagine, we're really enjoying our stay in the Montrose Green house. As the designers, it's an amazing learning opportunity as we're experiencing first hand every decision we made- for better or for worse. We're very satisfied with the vast majority of outcomes, but there are inevitably a handful of things we would do differently if given the opportunity. Overall, the layout works really well and the room sizes and storage space are more than adequate. The circulation is compact and the amount of natural light in the house is amazing...we usually don't turn any lights on during the day. The Caesarstone countertops in the kitchen and baths are extremely durable, with no worries about stains or scratches. We'd use that product again in a heartbeat. The chalkboard door in the kitchen is one of the other fun ideas that's working out almost exactly as planned. Having a powder room on the 1st floor, not having to trek down to the basement to do laundry, and having real closets are definitely a bonus. These aren't unique concepts, but are conveniences that older row homes often lack. The "green" features are more elusive to evaluate initially since they affect the energy usage/performance more than the day-to-day functionality or aesthetic of the home.

Up next...a critique of what we would change/do differently next time. We'll also share photos of some of the finishing touches as we continue to unpack & get settled. The plan is to open up the house again for tours later this spring, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A sneak peek at a new SOLIBS project...

So we've begun work on our next project! A new 3-story single-family residence that will be seeking a LEED-H Gold certification. The house is for a landscape architect and is located only a few blocks away from Montrose Green. Below are some renderings that show some of the design concepts.

South (or front) elevation.

We are exploring the idea of using a true 'rainscreen system' for the main facade. The 2-story bay, or bump-out, at the second and third floor bedrooms will be clad with flat-seam metal panels and the inset portion will have tongue and groove wood siding. Operable wood louvers in front of the third floor windows protect the glazing from the harsh summer sun.

North (or rear) elevation.

We located the kitchen in center of the house on the first floor and placed the living room at the rear. This allowed a strong connection between the living room and the rear yard. The back wall of the house is essentially all glass with large sliding panels that open up and join the indoor and outdoor spaces in the temperate months. There is a wood-sided bay, or bump-out, at the rear of the second floor (in what will be the client's office) that overlooks the yard. And off the master suite at the third floor there is a private deck. We are installing a white roof on top but designing the structure and waterproofing to be able to receive a green roof sometime in the future, which will be accessed by a spiral stair off the private deck.

Building section.

One great aspect about this house is that it sits on a lot that is fairly deep (roughly 70 feet) and thus the house is able to be almost 50 feet deep while still maintaining a large rear yard. What this allowed us to do is essentially pull the floor plan apart and incorporate a true 'solar chimney' (often referred to as a 'thermal chimney') in the middle of the house. The front and back portions of the house are effectively joined together by a bridge. At Montrose Green we used the stairwell in conjunction with the whole house fan to achieve a similar effect. In this house, we will have a motorized operable skylight at the top of the open shaft (opposed to a fan) that will open and close when needed. In addition to passive ventilation, the 'chimney' will bring natural light down into the kitchen as well as into other centrally located rooms at the second and third floors of the house.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Montrose Green wins streetscape competition

We are very proud to announce that the stormwater planter at Montrose Green has won 1st place in the 2nd annual SOSNA (south of south neighborhood association) Streetscape Competition in the 'Tree Pit Garden' category. The prize was a beautiful Nandina shrub from a wonderful organic plant and flower shop in our neighborhood called The Window Box.

Thank you so much to SOSNA for this recognition. We are proud to be part of such a great neighborhood.

Also, if you are in the neighborhood this weekend, be sure to check out BLOKTOBERFEST on Saturday, October 24th, noon-8pm for fun, food, beer, and music.

"This day-long outdoor festival will feature representatives of select craft breweries from around the country showcasing their biggest and best fall beers, as well as delicious food from neighborhood vendors, and a great line-up of live music from local and nationally-touring acts."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Upcoming Events- 10/9 thru 10/11

Join SoLibs & Bench Dog Design for several exciting events next weekend...
  • Philly Works- Opening Reception, Friday, October 9, 6-11pm
  • Bench Dog Design: Open Workshop Tour- Sunday, October 11, 12-4pm
--Scroll down for detailed information about each event--

Philly Works: Opening Reception
Friday, October 9, 6pm-11pm
(Exhibit runs from Wed. 10/7 to Sun. 10/11)

University of Pennsylvania, School of Design

34th and Walnut Streets, Meyerson Hall, Lower Gallery

Bench Dog Design will be exhibiting their work as part of this exhibition!

Philadelphia was known as "Workshop of the World" from around 1880 to 1920. At that time it was hard to find products for the everyday not being produced in the city and region. Just a century late it is far harder to find locally produced products. Philly Works is an installation of functional objects of all scales, quantities, and production techniques that are made in the Philadelphia region. Philly Works is a survey of design, manufacturing, and craft exhibited through a showcase of prototypes, limited editions, and mass-produced goods. Along with the objects, Philly Works will include documentation of the production spaces and the people who make the objects on
display. The show will include a "corner store" where some of the many items can be purchased. This opening will be the launch date for the corresponding database and website that will be updated year round. Philly Works will illustrate the many ranges of production still alive today in hopes of inspiring new work, new connections, and to bring light to what is happening in the city.
Philly Works is presented by Made in Philly.

Bench Dog Design: Open Workshop Tour
Sunday, October 11, 12-4pm, 2212 Sepviva Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19125

Bench Dog Design, a custom furniture design & fabrication shop that specializes in utilizing reclaimed timbers in their work, will be opening their workshop for tours. Located in the heart of Fishtown, their shop is housed within a larger warehouse that includes vintage motorcycle and car repair, a painting studio, metalworkers, and other craftsmen. This creative community provides a unique opportunity for collaboration and expression.

Using lumber salvaged from Philadelphia row homes, Bench Dog Design transforms discarded beams and joists into custom designed furniture. Bench Dog's commitment to reclaimed local materials ensures eco-friendly products with character. At the core of its foundation, Bench Dog values the integrity of the craft, thoughtful detailing, and quality design. To learn more, visit the blog:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Montrose Green recieves award from PHS

We are very proud to announce that Montrose Green has won the 3rd place prize for the 2009 City Gardens Contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

We entered the stormwater planter, the rear yard rainwater harvesting/rain garden system, and the green roof into the contest as separate gardens but one interconnected hydrological system.

Although our three gardens are all very different, they have one common purpose (other than to delight): this is to successfully manage stormwater runoff by taking virtually every drop of water that falls on our property and making sure it finds its way into the ground below us instead of into the city sewer/stormwater system, which either goes to the water treatment plant (a place where stormwater does not need to go) or directly to the river (a place where it can go, but should find its way 'naturally' opposed to via a drainpipe). With the incredibly wet season we are experiencing here in Philly, we have had a wonderful opportunity to witness these systems at work. It is truly amazing to see how much water the green roof really absorbs and how much water the planters can infiltrate into the ground.

Click HERE to see a photo album of the garden highlights at Montrose Green. And please check out our previous posts about the:
- Stormwater planter
- Rainwater harvesting/rain garden system
- Green roof

Thank you to PHS and all the judges for coming out and ultimately selecting the gardens at Montrose Green for this award and congratulations to all the other winners. The Awards Ceremony will be held at the 2010 Philadelphia Flower Show on March 2nd.

And, of course, thank you to Brian Weinrich, Shift_Design, JIG, and Charlie Miller, for all their help with the design and installation of our gardens. We are extremely proud of the beautiful (and hardworking) gardens that we all helped create and hope they will serve as a model for other projects in the city.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Join us on PARK(ing) Day!

"Providing temporary public open parking spot at a time"

We'll be participating in PARK(ing) Day on Friday, September 18! This one-day global event is intended to call attention to the need for more public open (and green) space in urban areas. Learn more about the origins of PARK(ing) day here.

SoLibs will be claiming a parking space directly across the street from Montrose Green (1536 Montrose), on the north side of the block. Rumor has it that the original clawfoot tub from the renovation might play a prominent role in our temporary park...Justin & Christopher will be representing SoLibs throughout the day, so please stop by and visit if you're in the area.

The SoLibs crew will be focusing on WATER...simple strategies to conserve water, such as by using a rain barrel to capture rainfall for watering herbs/flowers, installing aeraters on your faucets, or replacing your toilet with a dual-flush or low-flow model. Learn how more elaborate systems like stormwater planters, rain gardens, and green roofs can all play a role in reducing the impact of stormwater (wastewater) on the City's overtaxed infrastructure.

Emily will be helping to organize a PARK(ing) Day installation in front of the Center for Architecture (1216 Arch Street) in conjunction with the Community Design Collaborative & AIA Philadelphia. Their design is an "Eco-Urban Backyard" and will focus on affordable ideas for incorporating recycled, reclaimed, and eco-friendly features into a small footprint like a patio or balcony. View their resource list to learn where to get FREE stuff for your own backyard, including rain barrels, compost, and mulch.

Want to see who else is participating? View a map of all 30+ Philly PARK(ing) Day installations.

See below for a sampling of some creative PARK(ing) Day installations from prior years:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bench Dog Design to host 'First Fridays' event

Join us this Friday, Sept 4th, from 6-9pm, for our first official ‘Fishtown First Fridays’ gallery opening. We’ll be alongside other builders, artists, and craftsmen that share space in the Liberty Studios/Cycle Garage (our shop location). There will be plenty of beer, wine, and other libations. Hope to see you there!

How to get there:
Our address is 2212 Sepviva Street. MAP
Located just north of Old City: you can bike, drive, take the #5 bus, or the el (Berks stop)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Professional Photos

Here are just a few highlights of the recent photo shoot we had with the photographer from Kurfiss Sotheby's. Check out our listing on the kurfiss website for more photos.

Photo credit: Michael Colavita

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A good friend starts a new project

Justin Tocci, our good friend and co-worker at Montrose Green, recently branched out to begin another project of his own. He has taken on a partial renovation of a rowhome located in Manayunk (a neighborhood just north of Philly) and things are moving along quite nicely. He is documenting the progress through a blog site: please click here to check it out.

Although he is focusing most of his time on the Manayunk project, he is continuing to work with SoLibs on a part-time basis as we work on the design of our next project: a 3-story rowhome located just a few blocks away from Montrose Green. More info on this later.

Justin is a talented designer and craftsman and I am sure the Manayunk renovation will come out beautifully. We wish him luck in his new endeavor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Last week's storms...

Last week's torrential storms really tested the stormwater strategies at Montrose Green. Over 4.5" of rainwater came down in just 1 hour. For Philly, this is a month's worth of rain! The video below shows the stormwater planter receiving runoff water from both the street and sidewalk. As you can see, there is still a pool of water puddling into the street, but much of the runoff is directed into the planter. Here it is allowed to collect and is held until it naturally percolates back into the ground. We did notice that after clearing the intake channels of debris- mostly from small fallen flowers from the tree above- the flow of water increased significantly. The planter did begin to fill up, but since the grade of the planter sits below street level and there is plenty of clean stone laid below the planter bed, the water was able to infiltrate adequately and any standing water disappeared within minutes.

The second video (below) is very short clip that show what typically happens in Philly in a heavy storm. This clip shows our neighbor's downspout completely overflowing where it meets the boot (the short cast iron pipe that leads into the ground.) Typically, the roof runoff on rowhouses is channeled through a downspout, into a boot, and directly into the city's stormwater/sewer pipe which goes to the water treatment plant, as opposed to making its way into the ground or to the river. You can imagine what the poor treatment plant must have been going through last week.

Essentially what is happening here is the main stormwater/sewer pipe that runs under the middle of the street is completely full due to the amount of intake and all the connections from rowhouses are backed up. Many times these connection pipes run through people's basements and this is how they get flooded- which happened all over the city last week. And since the system is 'combined'- stormwater AND sewer in the same pipe- what you get in your basement is, well...let's say, it's not pretty. At Montrose Green, our only piped connection to the city's stormwater system is from our emergency overflow drain in the backyard and we barely had any water going through that pipe to the street during the storm and even with all the infiltration we are doing near the house, we had no water in the basement. Whew!

Our rain barrel + rain garden system was also pushed to the max, even with the flow of water dramatically reduced by the green roof above (which can absorb a lot of water but eventually gets fully saturated). Below you can see an image of the completely full rain barrel, with water overflowing into the adjacent trough. The trough empties into a raised planter (rain garden) through a series of horizontal holes. Similar to the planter out front, we laid a large amount clean stone under the bed for drainage and even with all the water it was taking on, it never did fill up.

After we took this photo, we opened the valves at the bottom of the barrel to let some of the captured water flow into the yard as well as the planter to give some relief to the rain barrel. The rear yard is currently dirt/mulch- which is pervious- so any overflow water was able to be absorbed directly into the ground. Eventually we plan to have sand set concrete pavers installed which will still allow water to infiltrate naturally.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We're headed to Fishtown tonight...PostGreen Web Launch Party!

Join us tonight at PostGreen's launch party to kick off the next phase of their development plans- 15 new, modern, green homes in the coming year- and their new website, where you can customize your very own green home online.

Thursday, July 30, 6pm
2424 E. York St
Philadelphia, PA 19125
More info: click here.

Christopher Stromberg & Dave Quadrini will be on hand as reps from Bench Dog Design for anyone interested in learning more about our custom furniture that utilizes wood reclaimed from Philadelphia homes & warehouses. Our workshop just a few blocks away in the same Fishtown neighborhood, so who knows...after a few beers, you just might be able to talk them into a tour.

If you can't see the slideshow below, click here to see final images of the 100k House Table, which was Bench Dog's first project commissioned by PostGreen. (A big thanks to Carryn Golden of Golden Silhouette for the photography expertise).

For anyone who doesn't know Chad & Nic personally, they're incredibly easy to work with and continually inspire us in their vision. We look forward to future collaborations...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sunset Open House, Friday 7/24

Please join us tomorrow evening for a special Open House!

Sunset Open House
Friday, July 24, 5-7:30pm
1536 Montrose St, Phila, PA, 19146
RSVP requested to krupp[at]

Sunset is at 7:22pm...
Enjoy local art, wine & cheese, and a skyline view from the green roof.
Learn about green building and the ways you can update your own home to be more energy-efficient.

For those who aren't able to attend, take a look at our latest photo album that documents the interior finish work, reclaimed wood vanity, salvaged pine paneling, kitchen cabinet installation, and custom rainwater harvesting system. If you live in the Philadelphia area, mark your calendar now for our two August Open House events, Sun. 8/9 from 11am-1pm & Sun. 8/23 from 2-4pm.

Contact Krupp[at] or call 215.740.8355 if you are interested in scheduling a private showing of Montrose Green.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some kind words from PHS / Philadelphia Green

Click here to read the latest post from Philadelphia Green News - a blog published by Philadelphia Green which mentions Montrose Green and our recently constructed stormwater planter.

Philadelphia Green® is a program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and is the nation’s most comprehensive urban greening program. Since 1974, Philadelphia Green has supported the development and ongoing care of community gardens, neighborhood parks and high-profile public green spaces in Philadelphia.

Sign up to receive RSS updates from Philadelphia Green News here and stay up-to-date on summer events in your neighborhood park, sign up to become a Tree Tender, learn about the City Harvest program, and the other innovative ways that Philadelphia Green & PHS are leading the green movement in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Artists

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the two artists that provided the artwork for our recent Open House at Montrose Green. We have always been proponents of the powerful combination of art and architecture. These two artists share this philosophy: one through the expression of the material with which things are made, and the other through the expression of the people who inhabit our world.

The paintings and mixed-media pieces are the work of Marjorie Tether Arendt. "Marjorie’s paintings are inspired by structures and the materials from which they are made, including oils, paper, cardboard, encaustic and wood". Marjorie is also a fellow architect, mother of two (a big welcome to baby Rowan!), and friend of the family. We discovered Marjorie's work at an exhibition at AxD Gallery a couple of years back and were immediately drawn to it. We feel very privileged to have her work grace the spaces of our house. The hand crafted detail and creative exploration of various materials in her work continually amaze and inspire us. If you attended the Open House and are interested in any particular piece, or if you would like to come tour the house and see the artwork, please either post a comment on our blog or send and email directly to Marjorie at: wolf.margie[at]

The large beautiful photographs are the work of our good friend Nema Etebar. Nema's photographs capture..."philadelphia soul.. interest in people and how they move, smile, dance, worry or not with their thoughts/are forever... photo-picture :: picture-photo... bringing back moments and memoirs.. into the streets, this city in time as time dose...has changed life". Nema has a remarkable way of vividly capturing the essence of a character in time and place. Please check out his website at: Make sure you take time to scroll through the various sections of his portfolio. You can also visit his JPG site to vote on your favorite photos. Although we love his images of Philly local color...the shots from his recent trip to India are truly amazing. If you attended the Open House and are interested in any particular piece, or if you would like to come tour the house and see the photos, please either post a comment on our blog or send and email directly to Nema at: nemaetebar[at]

Many thanks to Margie and Nema for loaning their work and enlightening our spaces.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Open House- this Saturday, 7/11

Hope to see everyone on Saturday afternoon from 3-8pm!
Montrose Green: Open House
1536 Montrose Street, 19146

A big thanks to our event supporters, recognized below.
  • Triumph Brewing Company
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Pumpkin Restaurant/Market/Cafe
  • Betty's Tasty Buttons
  • C & R Building Supply
Local music by Chris Devenney of New Pony, Christopher Farrell of Rit Mo Collective, and Kaveh Saidi. Local artwork on display by Marjorie Tether Arendt (painting/mixed media) and Nema Etebar (photography).

For those not able to walk/bike/take public transit...

Parking will be available nearby:
C&R Building Supply
1600 Washington Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Signs will guide you back to Montrose Green (1.5 blocks away)

Friday, July 3, 2009

How to build a Stormwater Planter...

We have successfully installed a stormwater planter in front of Montrose Green. And what exactly is a "stormwater planter", you ask? Well, it's similar to the tree wells that you typically see in the sidewalks running along the city streets, but bigger and constructed much differently. Here is a portion of a previous blog post explaining a bit about stormwater planters and how we were inspired to install one at Montrose Green...

(from June 18, 2008) "The Philadelphia Water Department Office of Watersheds has embarked on an ambitious program to install stormwater planters that are designed to capture and infiltrate street run-off. There was a presentation of this at PHS (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) recently that Emily and I attended...The concept is pretty simple: basically, instead of having continuous impervious paving along the street (with the occasional tree), we can create small stretches of pervious planting beds (up to 20' long) that will infiltrate sidewalk and street run-off. There is also a scheme to do an island 'bump out' that essentially takes the place of a parking space and replaces it with a lush vegetated area that can capture run-off. Obviously, these also greatly enhance the aesthetic of the street as well as contribute to better air quality."

The basic Stormwater Planter diagram, in section...

Here's a link (click here) to an informative document that describes stormwater planters in greater detail.

So it didn't take much for us to be convinced that installing a stormwater planter at Montrose Green would be a worthwhile venture. When it came time to bust up and re-pour our sidewalk a few weeks ago, we marked off an area along the street roughly 3'-6" wide x 15'-0" long and didn't pour any concrete there. After the sidewalk was set in the remaining area, we began the construction process.
Because neither of us are plant experts, the first thing we did was to team up with a great landscape designer to help us with the planter construction as well as the plant selection. We met Brian Weinrich through our contractor, Merlin, who is also helping Brian renovate his own house in South Philly. Brian actually works for the City Planning Commission, so between his landscape background and involvement with urban issues, he was definitely excited about helping us out with the planter. Below are his initial concept sketches (with planting options) as well as his final colored plan.

The curved stone path running through the middle of the planter represents a dry "riverbed" that will fill up during heavy rains. You can also see that we decided to go with three different trees and various arrangements of ground coverings....all of which need to be wet tolerant, due to the amount of water the planter will take on after a big storm.

One of the most challenging parts of this endeavor was the fact we had to dig the planter well by hand due to the utilities -gas and water lines- underneath. Above you can see me (on the left) and Anastasio (from Merlin's crew) digging away. The recommended planter depth is roughly 3'-0" deep. Ugh! It took us a couple days, but we finally got it all cleared out.

Above is a series of photos showing the steps involved in adding the drainage bed of fabric-wrapped 'clean stone'.
Step 1: the cleared out planter, Step 2: we laid permeable landscape fabric down, leaving a few feet of extra material in all sides, Step 3: fill the well with 18" of clean stone, Step 4: wrap the extra fabric up and over the top of the stone, essentially fully encasing the the stone as to prevent any dirt from getting into the drainage bed, compromising its effectiveness. This portion of the planter allows large amounts of water to infiltrate and recharge the ground water system below.

When it came time to select the plants and the soil mixture, we utilized two sources: One was a large nursery out in Lancaster County (where we got the trees and a few of the larger plants) and the other was our favorite local nursery,
Greensgrow Farms, up in the Fishtown area of Philly. We have been going to Greensgrow for years, enjoying their nursery and farmstand, and have also been proud members of their unique CSA. Above, you can see the various bags of material we used for the soil mixture. Brian felt a nice variety of compost (mushroom and leaf), shredded woods, soil conditioner, and sand would make for a rich, well-drained mix for the plants. You can also see a few of the native annuals & ground coverings we purchased. For the trees, we selected a Sweetbay Magnolia, a White Fringe, and a Serviceberry (or Juneberry) which all have different qualities.

Here's a great little clip of the truck (from Cava Building Supplies) delivering over 3 tons of clean stone. I will be honest in saying I was pretty nervous when I saw how much stone dumped out of the back of that truck. I felt we had way too much. In the end, we only needed about 2-1/2 tons but were able to utilize the rest in the back yard rain garden.

So after a long weekend of planting, our stormwater planter came to life...Above you can see Brian (top center image) knee deep into the planting process. And to make extra sure we were planting the correct species - the trees, along with almost all of the other plantings, came from PHS's list of plant species recommended for stormwater planters.
It's not published on their website yet, but we have our sources. The recommended species list includes native plants that are hydrophillic (water-loving), as well as hardy & salt-tolerant due to their proximity to the harsh conditions of street life.

Above are some detail shots of the planter. Hard to believe this is front of a Philly rowhome, huh? We are very pleased with the outcome. Thanks so much to Brian for all his expertise and hard work. In fact we were so excited about our planter that we entered it (along with the green roof and the rear yard rain garden) into the PHS "City Gardens Contest". Wish us luck!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Togo Construction - our finish carpenters

So it's funny how some things come about. Emily and I have been practicing architecture for several years now...about 4 of them in Philly. We have made a lot of connections in the construction industry. So when it came down to finding the right team of carpenters to help us finish Montrose Green, you'd think they would come through our numerous connections "in the business" right? Well, not exactly.

About a month ago, Emily and I were strolling through our neighborhood (Grad Hospital) with my in-laws and we dropped into a new artisan confections shop called Betty's Speakeasy (aka Betty's Tasty Buttons). Needless to say, the amazing selection of sweets made with local ingredients was the main attraction. But we also took note, as architects inevitably do, of the design details of the space. In addition to noticing the use of reclaimed wood floors for trim, custom concrete countertops, and other unique features...we also admired the craft in which the details were executed. Emily asked the owner about the carpentry work and she gave us the contact info for Togo Construction. She highly recommended the company, especially if we were looking for unique designs constructed with reclaimed materials. We smiled and gave her the address to our blog.

Togo Construction is owned and operated by Lance Morabito. In case you were wondering, the name 'Togo' comes from a classic modern couch designed in the early '70's by Michael Ducaroy. Now what does the Togo couch have to do with Lance's company? Not much, actually. He just really likes the couch and thought it was a catchy name. Fair enough.

Anyway, we called Lance the following day to see if he might be interested in helping us out at Montrose Green. He met us the next day, walked through the house, expressed a genuine interest in what we're doing, and has been on-site just about every day since then. His 'second' carpenter, Dave Palmer, has also been continually involved and the two of them are doing some really great work.

I hope that Lance knew what he was getting into when he agreed help to finish out a design/build project being run by the owner who is also the architect...and on-site everyday. Let's just say that I get fairly particular sometimes regarding design details. The great thing is that Lance seems to be just as particular about the way his work is constructed. Finding a carpenter (never mind two of them) that are totally into modern detailing and all its nuances who have the tools, skills, and creative insight to successfully execute those details is a rare find these days. Lance also has a genuine interest in working with reclaimed materials and finding new and creative ways to incorporate them into the project.

Togo recently completed all the trim work for the house. You can see below a few images of the 'nearly finished' details. The door/window/baseboard detail that we used is considered a 'museum' or 'gallery' trim detail. Basically, all the wood trim sits flush with the face of the drywall and is separated by a continuous 1/4" reveal (the obligatory modern detail). It took a lot of discussion and some trial and error to figure out the cleanest way to build this detail, but in the end it came out beautifully. These images are from the third floor which is being touched up with a final coat of joint compound (or spackle). The shot with the ceiling fan is looking through one of the bedroom transoms.

Togo Construction is currently working on the rear yard cedar fence (images below). I have had the design of this fence in my head for a long time, so I'm pretty excited to finally see it come to life. Lance also appears to have a fascination with pouring concrete, so we're now discussing going back to one of our original ideas of pouring concrete pavers for the rear yard patio that would incorporate 50% slag in the mix along with some color pigment.

Below are a few shots of Lance and Dave working on the details of the cedar fence.

Finding high quality craftsman who take pride in their work is a real treat. Along with Merlin and LCB Construction (our GC), we are excited to have Togo Construction as part of the SoLibs team.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Open House...July 11th, 3-8pm!

Please join us for our upcoming Open House Party!

Montrose Green: Open House Party
Saturday, July 11th, 3-8pm
1536 Montrose Street
Philly, PA 19146

We'll be leading tours of the Montrose Green project throughout the afternoon and welcome anyone who is interested to stop by and see the finished project in person. The SoLibs team will be on-site all afternoon and will be joined by our realtor, David Krupp, as well as several members of the design & construction crew to mark the completion of the project. It's been a crazy year and we want you to come help us celebrate!

We'll have a variety of local food & beverages on hand to share and to top off the event, there will be live music on the back patio. Should be a fun time for all...Please let our realtor know if you can make it. RSVP requested to:

Hope to see you on the 11th!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Caesarstone countertops installed

Below you can see the Caesarstone countertops arriving by truck. Our friends at K Group coordinated the process...overseeing the template, fabrication, and installation. (They partner with Master Countertops who actually fabricate and install the material). The second image shows the guys grinding the material after they scribed it on site so it will fit tight to our floors. This piece is for one of the 'turndowns' (where the end of the countertops turn and continue down to the floor) in the kitchen.

Below are a couple of shots of the countertops installed in the kitchen, a detail of the 'turndown' at the dishwasher, and a shot of the master bathroom sink and faucet. The install went off without a hitch and everything looks great. We were most concerned with the seam in the material at the ends of the counter where we decided to turn it and run it down to the floor. They did a great job at putting it all together. Our original plan was to mitre the corners but it was not feasible with this particular line of Caesarstone due to the fact that it contains glass and it began to chip and pop out after a few tests in the shop. We ultimately went with a 'butt joint' detail which still came out nice after they polished it up.

One important green strategy we developed in regards to the Caesarstone (outside of the material itself- read more about that in a previous post) was the maximization of the slab dimensions. We actually designed the width of our two kitchen countertops and all of bathroom vanities to coordinate with the manufactured width and length of the Caesarstone slab. By carefully mapping out all of our counters to fit within the slab dimensions, we determined that we would only need to purchase two slabs for the whole project. After some shifting around and coordination at the fabricators, we were able to successfully provide countertops for the entire kitchen (including 'turndowns') and all three bathrooms...all within two slabs with virtually no waste factor.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Custom stair railings installed

Last Friday, Bill Curran came to install the steel handrails at our stairwells, just in time for the DVGBC Green Home tour on Saturday, 6/20. We had a great turnout of about 35 people who stopped by to see the house- our project was the 2nd stop on a tour that also included Bancroft Green, Thin Flats, and Market Flats. Nearly everyone braved the rain to climb up our timber ladder to the green roof for a glimpse of the skyline and the sedum plants in full bloom. Click here for a slideshow compiled by one of the tour-goers. (Thanks, Brandon for sharing your photos!)

Below are some shots of the steel guys working out the details and then clamping and site welding the rails in place. The tolerances that these guys work to is pretty amazing. They site measure and then cut almost all the steel in their shop and are usually within a 1/16" when they come to put it all together on site.

Below you can see the how the stair rail turns and connects to the guard rail at the second floor. Bill and I went over a number of different ways to execute this and worked out the details in his shop. We think it came out pretty nice.

Here are a couple of shots of the stair and railing from the first floor. We pulled back the protective cardboard on the floor temporarily so you can see how the cherry floors and the exposed brick look against the black steel rails and reclaimed timber treads. The treads you see here are temporary (made from old pine timbers found in the alleyway behind the house), but look very similar to the final reclaimed oak timbers which still need to be planed down and cleaned up before being installed.