Featured Collaborator: Bright Common
On an unseasonably warm February day in South Kensington, an old and quickly changing Philadelphia neighborhood, architect Jeremy Avellino makes quick mention of the temperature. Unlike many Philadelphians, saying things like “Nice day today”, Avellino gestures towards the outdoors with some consternation. 62 degrees in mid February doesn’t bring a welcome relief from winter as much as means underscoring the urgency of his work. “Whatever we thought ‘the future’ was, it’s now. It’s happening.”
Avellino’s three person firm, Bright Common, housed inside two rooms of a lightly renovated Victorian-era school building, fills their walls and shelves with drawings of energy efficient designs and sustainable material samples. Sustainability, both as it relates to resource management and construction products, is increasingly important to architects. The built environment is responsible for an outsized portion of global energy consumption: most buildings require a lot of resources to construct and also to heat and cool. But some buildings, especially the ones Bright Common designs, strive to use as little as possible.
Several decades ago design schools began integrating sustainability into their curriculum and what was once a grassroots movement gradually entered the mainstream. International building codes incrementally required designers and builders to include energy saving measures. But Avellino balks at Pennsylvania’s building code, last updated in 2009, as “starkly inadequate.” To design appropriately in an era of declining energy resources requires decisive action, not small interventions. And while many architects try to include carbon reducing measures and specify green products, Bright Common approaches the entire design process through the lens of sustainability. Avellino doesn’t play the “green card” as much as he fans out the entire deck, examining every aspect that connects human life to the resources needed to sustain it.
For these reasons, Solo Real Estate approached Avellino to design Kensington Yards, a fourteen unit development on North 5th Street which integrates existing buildings with new construction. Several years ago, Avellino lived across the street from the three story Victorian rowhome and developed a strong connection to it, remarking that “those arches got into my psyche.” Avellino now lives less than two blocks away with his wife and two small children, and remains deeply attuned to the project’s setting. In his site-generated design process, he thoughtfully observed the existing pattern language and exploited it to create the project’s highly unique, massive semi-circular windows. The resulting design is both striking and subtle, blending old and new in an unexpected way.
Kensington Yards is a harmonious addition to the block in addition to being sustainably built. The project includes robust insulation which will allow residents to minimize their reliance on fossil fuels while feeling comfortable in all seasons. Avellino, a certified Passive House architect, works diligently to design air tight buildings in which very little heat or air conditioning can escape. He describes holes in buildings as similar to holes in a ship: you don’t want them. In addition to leaking heat and cooling from inside, non air-tight buildings also allow pollution, dust and contaminants into the house. Americans spend the vast majority of each day inside buildings with low or unknown indoor air quality. Bright Common works to design buildings which are sustainable both for the environment and for human health.
Play Arts, a recently completed Bright Common project, and winner of a Preservation Alliance Jury Award certainly benefits from this fastidious attention to indoor air quality. The former public bath house now serves as a vibrant, engaging playspace for infants and children. Play Arts, just a few blocks away from Kensington Yards, is one of several dozen Riverwards-area projects in which Avellino has been involved. Though he designs buildings throughout the East Coast, a dense cluster remain centered within a mile or two of his home. This isn’t by accident. Avellino is seeking not just to sustainably build buildings, but also to nurture the growth of his village. This commitment spurs close relationships with the craftspeople and builders who construct their designs, as well as the owners who inhabit them. If Avellino’s clients don’t already know him, they certainly become friends during the design process. Solo Real Estate couldn’t be happier with this collaboration and new friendship.