Young architect wins contest to transform neighborhood

July 1, 2008 4:57:26 PM PDT
A section of West Philadelphia is getting a facelift with the help of a young architect. For now, the 800 block of Markoe is scarred with abandoned shells and empty lots. But, Juliet Whelan and her architecture firm, Jibe, are winners of a design contest to turn this block around.

Key to Jibe's win is its cost-effective nod to history. Most of the renovated homes will keep their 100 year old brick exteriors.

"It's hard to justify trashing 25 buildings and being sustainable," Whelan said. "There is a lot of value to what's here, as well as fitting into the greater context of Philadelphia."

The Philadelphia Housing Authority contest was only open to young designers, firms that had been open five years or less. The thought was they'd add a zip of flair to the zing of responsible design in affordable housing.

"They looked at bringing in contemporary issues around materials, as well as long term sustainability, and coexisting with environmental concepts and environmental issues," said Carl Greene, Executive Director of PHA.

The plan from Whelan's three year old firm included innovations for better light and ventilation. In fact, a special bank of windows on the roof will open to suck out the summer heat and reflect light on a brick wall to keep out the winter cold.

The homes should be refurbished by 2010 and the hope is that the transformation that starts with the building will extend to the people living in them.

According to Greene, "what we find is that they (people) have more concern, they have a sense of hope and optimism and positive feeling about themselves and their family members and their neighborhood."

Soon, the beauty in Whelan's eye will be a gift to those new beholders.


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