Split Level House

Split Level House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Qb

Photographs are copyright Todd Mason / Halkin Photography.

According to Wikipedia, Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood "has become something of small enclave of young professionals, students, artists, and design professionals." Further, "the neighborhood has been targeted for revitalization because it is very close to Center City, in spite of having many vacant lots and abandoned historic properties." If these statements are accurate, the Split Level House by local firm Qb is an example of such a development helping to transform the area.

The house sits on an irregular corner lot created by two grids at an angle to each other. Qb's design creates a mass extruded from the property lines of the site, but then carves into it and, most strikingly, rounds the corner from the second floor to the roof terrace. These carvings create a kitchen terrace and light well at the site's inside corner, and an equally striking void bordered by glass that runs vertically up the building from the main entry. This void frames the vertical circulation set back from the glass and, combined with a fairly complex section, creates some interior views across this exterior space.

The void is also the place where the different floor levels come together, illustrating the house's moniker. This perspective section clearly shows the split levels that meet roughly in the middle of the plan. What does this split accomplish? First, it creates spaces fairly open yet scaled to their functions, instead of merely open on continuous floor plates. The split adds definition without acting like a wall. It also necessitates vertical movement from space to space, elevating the importance of the transition in daily events and activating the movement up and down the house.

Spatially the Split Level House is rich, but it also is materially. The dark brick responds to the neighborhood context, without mimicking it. Likewise the wood window frames and exterior doors are a fitting complement to the gray brick, much like the painted white frames work with the neighbors' orange and red bricks. Qb only departs from this simple palette of brick, wood and vision glass with the corner entry's translucent glazing and stone base. The house's splitting and recombining, if you will, via its materiality creates a distinctive yet highly appropriate design for an area with new developments probably far less sensitive.