A recent site visit by Philadelphia YIMBY has revealed that construction has not yet started on a five-story, 14-unit mixed-use development at 1350 North Front Street in Fishtown, Kensington. The project will span 19,830 square feet and feature ground level retail and a roof deck, which, given the structure’s future prominence, promises to offer dramatic views of the Northern Liberties and Center City skylines. The latest permits, which were issued in June of last year, indicate Gnome Architects as the designer, although the previous design (featured as the cover image of the article) was crafted by Bright Common. Permits list GRIT Construction as the contractor and a construction cost of $2.3 million.
The development spans a through-block lot that stretches from Front Street to the east to Hope Street to the west. While no renderings are available for the latest design by Gnome Architects, the Bright Common iteration offered much more detail, and it is likely that the redesign may follow a similar massing.
The prior proposal was slated to rise 65 feet tall to the top of the main roof and 75 feet tall to the top of the bulkhead. The tallest portion, which effectively rose six stories tall (five plus mezzanine), faced Front Street. From that point, the building was to recede in a series of gradual setbacks toward a 34-and-a-half-foot, three-story high section at Hope Street.
According to a project description on the architect website, which titled the development as “Front(s)”, the project recognized the variation of local scale and character not only via its massing, but also through the use of varying facade treatments. The project description listed on the architect website is quoted in full below:
This fourteen-unit mixed-use project is modeled as a microcosm of Philadelphia’s urban fabric. Mimicking the language of a changing city, its three elevations are conceived as archetypes of the surrounding context; each with a distinct and separate “front”.
The shortest volume, a three-story brick box, faces a small residential street as a modern conception of the row home. On the south side, the building is broken into distinct metal-clad volumes, perforated with an assortment of openings. This variegated, yet studied composition echoes the calico development of the city’s infill construction.
The tallest volume, a four-story metal box, faces a commercial corridor and elevated rail. Nodding to Philadelphia’s arts history, a mural covers the facade; this nearly windowless elevation is gracefully punctuated with arched openings at the sidewalk to create an inviting storefront for passing pedestrians.
In other words, if the front facade appeared rather flat, it does not seem to stem from a shoddy rendering that failed to capture the dimensionality of an articulated curtain wall, but rather because the whimsical ornament were to be literally painted onto a flat wall as a trompe l’oeil mural, designed by Carla Weeks for Bright Common.
While the architects’ decision to make the building’s main facade largely windowless (aside from the ground floor) may appear jarring, perhaps they were looking to minimize exposure to the noise generated by the El, instead utilizing south-facing windows made possible by a private alley to the south of the structure. Besides, the mural would have made the structure at 1350 North Front Street into the most unique building along the thoroughfare, turning heads both at the street and on the trains passing on the elevated Market-Frankford Line in front of the building.
While the Bright Common design was certainly an unorthodox one, it appears that the architects not only approached it with careful diligence, particularly in terms of the nuanced massing, but they were clearly having fun during the design process, whether during the creation of the Front Street-facing mural or when they added a zeppelin to the side rendering.
Coincidentally, the development replaces another mural-bearing structure. The three-story rowhouse, which has already been torn down, once sported a patriotic visage of a bald eagle backed by the Stars and Stripes. In either case, even if the unremarkable, aside from the mural, rowhouse remained standing, the star-spangled painting would have most likely been blocked in the near future by a building that may be proposed for the parking lot immediately to the south at 1336 North Front Street.
During our visit, no construction work has been observed at the site, which appears to be strewn with ted brick that remains from the rowhouse that formerly stood at the site.
We anticipate redevelopment of the parking lot at 1336 North Front Street not only because of its ample size and proximity to transit (the Girard Station on the El and the route 15 trolley on Girard Avenue are situated a block and a half to the south), but also because of ample development activity in the surrounding area.
Some of the most recent projects to have gone up or have been proposed in the immediate vicinity are situated at 1118 North Front Street, 1131-39 North Front Street, 1141 North Front Street, 1308-10 North Front Street, 1321-23 North Front Street, 1600 North Front Street, 1700 North Front Street, 1772 North Front Street, 1900 North Front Street, 1952-58 North Front Street, and many more, including an ample number of new housing developments along Hope Street.