Adapted from Philly.com - By Inga Saffron, Inquirer Architecture Critic
Far too often, housing designed for Philadelphia's poor wears the architectural equivalent of a scarlet letter. Puny windows, unwelcoming front doors, and clunky details virtually scream that the occupants are there on sufferance. Such markers are surely one reason many communities react badly to the prospect of subsidized housing in their midst.
A trio of new rowhouses in Logan - yes, that land of sinking homes - could make them change their minds. With their Mondrian-inspired grids of glazed black brick and peppermint-green metal, the facades resemble something you might admire in one of Philadelphia's up-and-coming hipster neighborhoods. You ascend graciously up a few steps to the entrance, past rustic planters tumbling with vines and a generous porch. Once inside, the houses explode with natural light.
This is low-income housing superior to anything Philadelphia has done in half a century. Not only are the rowhouses stylish and modern both inside and out, they are among the most energy-efficient ever built in the United States. Produced by Onion Flats, the quirky firm that designs, builds, develops, and sometimes markets its own residential projects, the homes are the first in Pennsylvania to be certified by the demanding International Passive House Institute, based in Germany. Nationally, there are about 30 projects that qualify as "passive" because their energy consumption is near zero, and several more without certification.
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