foamcage.com had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Phillips, AIA, LEED AP, and Principal at Interface Studio Architects. This Examiner had the pleasure of visiting an ISA designed project, The Nine, back in the spring. It was this trip that inspired us to take a closer look at ISA.
Here’s what we wanted to know:
1. ISA believes “creativity and innovation are triggered by limitations.” How does that ethos influence sustainability in your work?
We think sustainability has a lot to do with getting “a lot” from “a little”. We often start by asking how a certain building type uses energy, well before having specific design responses – so the fundamental environmental behavior of a construction type or program feeds into our work. Rules help direct our creative process – whether they are site, urban, material, energy performance, etc. We work to develop many potential solutions and then evaluate them through a series of different lenses in order to find one that balances the right limitations and has the potential to reflect the character of these limitations in visually and experientially compelling ways.
Can you tell me any more about the Readymade Lofts? Do you have a site selected? And if so, in which up and coming Philadelphia neighborhood?
Ready-made lofts was a project we designed in 2007. It was slated for 2nd Street, a couple of blocks north of the new Piazza Supermarket in Northern Liberties. It was an interesting project, two dozen luxury loft units above a first floor office/retail space and parking in the basement. Natural light, terraces and roof access were all important elements. It was also an eerie experiment in thinking about architecture that is made from pre-fabricated components — which we have actually played-out in a real built project at The Modules student apartments near Temple Univ. This project was an economic canary for us — it fell apart as the recession approached, never got financed, and developer pulled out.
What project have you personally found most challenging and creatively stimulating?
We try to turn all of our projects into productive intellectual/design exercises by amplifying the right moments- whether it is manufacturing technology, using simple materials in interesting ways, generating visual interest in flat/super-affordable facades, or customizing an energy efficiency approach for an affordable housing project. Two, recent projects that come to mind are The Granary and 100K House. The Granary required the overbuild of an existing grain silo with new energy efficient apartments. Proposing the reuse of the existing silo voids for programmatic and energy advantages was a blast. We like what that project says about the relationship between historic buildings and new construction. 100K House remains an important challenge for us. It embodies “innovation triggered by limitations” in the most aggressive way.
The 100K house is fairly well known by Philadelphia design fans, why do you think this project, and its PR, has been so successful?
It’s success isn’t necessarily an architectural one – though we are quite fond of the buildings themselves. I like how the project completely re-casts the idea of housing as more of a consumer product than an architectural problem. Many consumers do more substantive research on buying a car or a smartphone than their homes. We think Generation Y, the most green-minded and savvy consumers ever, will demand new housing products as they prepare for their first real estate purchases. 100K House gets at this idea – and the design and marketing back it up. We look forward to building many more here in Philadelphia and eventually in other cities.
What do you think is the key to more accessible and sustainable architecture in Philadelphia?
Requiring buildings that use public funding to be LEED rated is great, and many of Philadelphia’s big institutions are doing all of the right things in encouraging sustainable architecture. But, the big shift will be a consumer one. Buyers, remodelers, developers, housing authorities, community agencies, etc will be what really changes the equation on energy consumption. Housing is the most unregulated, underperforming building type from an energy point of view. Consumers need to demand better quality and energy efficiency — not more square footage and trendy finishes — but, insulation, better windows and natural light, air sealing, active energy systems, etc. This quality goes into their wallets every month, and, I predict, have a huge impact on resale values a decade from now. Expectations need to be raised.
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