Philadelphia Freedom: A townhouse prototype demonstrates that sustainability needn’t cost a premium

Posted on September 21, 2010

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Best Green Houses
Interface Studio Architects

By David Sokol,Via:greensource.construction.com
Chad Ludeman doesn’t make false promises. Brian Phillips, AIA, LEED AP, first met Ludeman after lecturing about affordable housing—an obsession of his five-year-old Philadelphia-based firm Interface Studio Architects (ISA)—at a Habitat for Humanity conference in 2007. “He came up to me and said we were doing cool stuff and that he was getting ready to do his first development,” Phillips recalls. “He was a software engineer.”

Like many architects, Phillips fields tentative expressions of interest often, so he doesn’t pay them too much mind. Yet six months later, Ludeman phoned to discuss his new development company Postgreen and a piece of land in the Philadelphia neighborhood East Kensington. Soon the architect and client were creating a project…
 

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…Phillips remembers another Ludeman stunner. “When we first started working on a house, Chad said, ‘Why would I design houses that aren’t affordable for me or my friends?’ By early 2008 we got this idea of building the least expensive, most interesting, greenest urban infill project we could.” …
 

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…Owners took occupancy of the first two ISA-designed 100K Houses this last spring. The next pair should be completed soon, and currently there are plans to build 17 more of these townhouses. They will be interspersed throughout East Kensington, and built in a more block-like configuration in nearby Fishtown in collaboration with a community development corporation…

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…ISA has conceived four versions of the 100K House thus far. Three of the quartet are intended to fit a typical 16-foot-wide Philadelphia lot, and they all include a mechanical core around which different interior environments are arranged, including…

Image © Sam Oberter Photography

…a loft-like space, a more compartmentalized family scenario, and a live-work setup that features a completely open first floor…

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…The fourth 100K House is intended for even skinnier land parcels, with its mechanical and circulation core entirely shifted to one side. The 100K Houses already complete are both loft designs, adapted to 18-foot-wide plots…

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…Exterior claddings switch, too. HardiePanel sheets are mounted from the first two 100K Houses, while subsequent houses can be wrapped in HardiePanel on which the architects may be able to print text or graphics, HardiePlank, or brick. “One of the ideas we’ve had to make these houses affordable is to be obsessive about using a single material on the exterior. There are fewer flashing and material-change details,” Phillips explains. Customers can sort through all their options at postgreenhomes.com, which launched July 30…

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…What makes this concept green? Further rethinking of the fundamentals. For instance, the 100K House measures a scant 1,100 square feet. “Instead of building a bigger house and sticking on green stuff, we thought to right-size the space for an urban infill site,” Phillips says. From there, the architects specified construction with structural insulated panels and equally robust windows to minimize mechanical systems. Each house includes a heat recovery ventilator that circulates fresh air among occupants without penetrating this tight thermal envelope…
 

Image © Sam Oberter Photography

…The pair of houses currently nearing completion meet Passivhaus criteria. All 100K Houses also should earn LEED-Platinum certification. “Should” is operative: Since each building will retail for approximately $250,000, in the spirit of affordability the homeowner can choose whether to pursue LEED certification and shoulder that additional expense…

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…Thanks to ISA’s outside-in approach—from urban infill, to architectural scale, to the quality of the building envelope—sustainable interior features represent mere tweaks…
 

Image © Sam Oberter Photography

…Exposed plywood and OSB predominate, finishes are minimal, and compact fluorescent light bulbs illuminate all spaces. Moreover, the green stick-ons are few. Up on the roof, a single solar thermal panel should supply all domestic hot water, for example…
 

Photo © Sam Oberter Photography

…Phillips concedes that ISA and Postgreen are still navigating a nascent phase. The team is determining whether to spread beyond Philadelphia limits, what quantities would justify the supplier relationships backing true production housing, and ISA’s fee structure. Even so, two Philadelphia neighborhoods will soon be home to a goodly number of 100K Houses, and that near future promises many more to come.

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