They are as gutsy and gritty as ever.
Years ago, TreeHugger looked at the work of Brian Phillips and Interface Studio Architects and called it "tough, gritty work in tough, gritty neighbourhoods, which is exactly where the important work will be done." Touring the Fishtown district of Philadelphia in 2012, I was actually pretty shocked to find that it was "full of empty lots, missing teeth, simple boxy handyman's specials everywhere."
After 50 years of declining population, Philadelphia is experiencing a massive construction boom...While long-standing neighbourhoods have incrementally densified, areas of North Philadelphia – once characterised by overwhelming levels of vacancy – are now on the frontline of a rapid housing expansion.
But their houses haven't changed that much; they are still boxy (that's the vernacular style), edgy, and a bit rough around the edges, much like the neighborhood. The latest is in Kensington, which looks even a bit sketchier than Fishtown did; Google Earth shows a lot of empty lots and missing teeth.
In one of their other projects, ISA describes the Philadelphia story:
The rowhouse is the most common form of housing in Philadelphia. Since the city’s founding, deep lots with narrow street frontages, bounded on both sides by adjacent structures, have defined many of its neighborhoods. These straightforward three-dimensional boxes, typically 16 feet wide, 40 feet deep and 35 feet tall, have proved remarkably flexible, accommodating shifting demographics, densities, and lifestyles from the 1700s to today.
An inherently affordable and energy-efficient living model, the urban rowhouse is being recharged following the recession of 2008. Many of Philadelphia’s emerging neighborhoods are defined by new, young populations repurposing modest worker housing from the turn of the last century. Further, the city’s extensive supply of vacant land is providing opportunities for new riffs on the rowhouse typology. As residents have changed their patterns of daily life, rowhouses have adapted, reconfiguring internal and external elements – stair, stoop, kitchen, bath, roof, windows – to accommodate shifting definitions of home.
So within the vernacular form, they manage a wonderfully simple plan with a plywood service core surrounded by white space.
It's wonderful to see that ISA has stayed true to their roots here, still gritty and a bit edgy. More photos in Dezeen.