“Have you ever heard the expression ‘a stitch in time saves nine’?” asks Hans Hesselein, the face behind the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm Apiary Studio tasked with designing and landscaping the courtyard at Solo Realty’s South Kensington development Kensington Yards. I haven’t, but as Hesselein explains the proverb to me, I realize that this philosophy of addressing a problem head on at the outset, as opposed to skirting around it and creating more issues later, underlies a lot of the work that Apiary Studio conducts.
A little over two years ago, with a BA in Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University and a number of solid years working in the field in New York City under his belt, Hesselein made his way down to Philadelphia. Ready to start his own firm, an undertaking much more affordable in Philadelphia than New York, Hesselein saw here a city that is on the brink of many things – of figuring out what it wants to be, bursting with opportunities for impactful and meaningful work, and moving in a positive, innovative direction.
Hesselein approaches his work by addressing the context of the city and the contents of its soil. Philadelphia has a rich industrial history that shaped the physical, built landscape we inhabit today. Yet, that past life also bears influence on the soil we tread upon now, ravaged by industrial activity. Instead of bringing in new soil, an expensive and often unsustainable practice, Hesselein prefers to work within the fabric of Philadelphia’s landscape. Sometimes this means sourcing rare native and/or adaptable plants from the nursery that he and his partner, a gardener at the Wyck House, operate. More often it means planting what Hesselein describes as “tough, urban plant material” and “weedy stuff”.
Weeds, in fact, as Hesselein enlightens me, are some of the more viable urban plant material. It makes sense – weeds persevere, which means even in the tough soil conditions present in Philadelphia, they will thrive.
Addressing the industrial past of the Kensington area is exactly what Apiary Studio brings to Solo Realty’s Kensington Yards project. Not only has the factory studded built environment of the River Wards influenced the fashionable industrial-futuristic aesthetic of many popular restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and residential units in the area, it has contributed to the actual makeup of the soil we are left to work with. Hesselein is constantly thinking about these roots that continue to shape Kensington today, and with his landscaping work, he seeks to address those issues directly.
Hesselein is close with the team behind Bright Common, the architecture firm designing Kensington Yards, which is how his studio came to be involved with the project. Both firms share a similar focus on sustainability, recycled materials, and an ethical aesthetic.
With the common space that Apiary Studio was tasked to design, Hesselein created something very sleek, yet edgy, channeling all of this influence. He made use of raw, heavy materials to reference Olde Kensington’s industrial age, while establishing nice, clean side gardens to speak to the modern lifestyle. The movable fire pit is the focal point of the courtyard, which is shared between all of the units, encouraging community and intermingling. The design also includes a handful of side areas and nooks for more private or independent enjoyment of the development’s outdoor space.
We couldn’t be more excited to see how Apiary Studio’s courtyard design comes to life at Kensington Yards, and to hear what future contributions Hesselein has in store for the city. As Hesselein explained to me while we chatted in his second floor workspace at his Germantown apartment, he hopes for his studio to someday grow into its name – apiary – a busy-bee workspace with a hierarchy that functions horizontally, meaning everyone works collaboratively.
Check back in the upcoming weeks for a progress report on Kensington Yards.