Wesley Architects
link to Wesley Architects website

The Spite House Northern Lierties



Similar to other "spite houses," the townhouse in Northern Liberties is built on a tiny, narrow and oddly shaped - almost unbuildable  vacant corner lot in the Northern Liberties (NoLib) section of Philadelphia. The NoLib Spite House doesn't quite follow the rules of its urban context, but rather seeks to recover them through a revelation of ordinary conditions. The house was influenced by the writings of Stanley Rosen especially The Elusiveness of the Ordinary, 2002.

The form of the building responds precisely - but not literally - to a series of specific conditions in the urban context, i.e. extending a street wall, establishing a corner and stepping to adjust to surrounding building heights. The primary architectural element of the building is a brick wall with windows and doors; but in contrast to the red brick front facades on the surrounding buildings, the brick of the Spite House is a smoke-stained dark gray color and the wall folds around the corners to wrap all three sides of the building.  Although the folded brick wall is not parallel to the sidewalk or the property lines, the two street walls of the corner are held (more or less) along the perimeter.

Like the surrounding buildings the Spite House has secondary elements that contrast with the brick wall. Unlike the painted wood and aluminum siding used on the secondary elements of the surrounding buildings, these elements are zinc.  Like those on the surrounding buildings these secondary elements act to provide a meaningful articulation with regard to the legibility of the urban context, e.g. marking an public corner and a private entrance.  Although at first glance the Spite House doesn't appear to be a ?good neighbor,? the bending of the brick wall along with the bumping of the secondary zinc elements provides a sense of belonging to a specific urban context. 

The interior of the house was developed around a vertical journey culminating on a roof deck with an upper-level green roof.  The journey begins on the sidewalk by crossing a stone threshold and stepping up onto a vestibule. The vestibule is positioned on the middle level of an interior topography. One steps down from the vestibule into a sunken living room or up into a raised dining room and kitchen.  From the vestibule one ascends the stairs on a vertical journey that passes through the bedroom levels and ends by breaking the roof with skylights, a roof deck and green roof.

The geometry of the exterior of the Spite House is resolved spatially on the interior in a manner that creates rooms of appropriate definition (with regard to shape and size) and specific outlook.  Rooms are seen as opportunities to occupy positions within the house in relation to the surrounding city. Each room is defined by the bending of the exterior wall and the bumping of the secondary elements. These exterior elements are inhabited on the interior as the narrative of the vertical journey unfolds and the intimacy gradient of dwelling is revealed.

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